The inclusive title of polymath Miranda July’s first feature film is apt for a multimedia artist who has often sought to forge virtual communities through her work. Her Joanie 4 Jackie chain letter video project generated a cheap
distribution network for unaffiliated female filmmakers, while on learningtoloveyoumore.com, July and collaborator Harrell Fletcher concoct offbeat art class homework (“Make a paper replica of your bed”) and post the results—every assignment begets its own online group show. In the beguiling ensemble Me and You and Everyone We Know, July measures the distances between people in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood and knits together cockeyed comedies of attraction and repulsion. A prizewinner at Sundance and Cannes, July’s witty ode to only-connecting sustains a delicate tone of pensive whimsy.
The film’s focal points—perhaps even its Me
and You—are a pair of dazed, searching outsiders lacking a certain
We. Earnest, goofy video artist Christine (played by July) is trying to nudge a foot in the door at the local Center for Contemporary Art, but even once she penetrates the fortress, she can’t get her work-sample tape into the hands of the standoffish director. (Is it ironic or only fitting that art-world superstar July finds her most piquant sample of enforced estrangement inside a gallery?) Meanwhile, frazzled shoe salesman Richard (a superb John Hawkes) is splitting with his wife and moving out of the house they share with their Internet-glued kids, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). The separation appears amicable enough, but bewildered Richard is badly unmoored, appearing at his sons’ bedroom door like a vagrant, wild-eyed supplicant (“Do I look well to you guys?”) and setting fire to his hand on the front lawn, as if trying to invent an ancient Ceremony of the Broken Home.
The attractions of impromptu ritual are a constant in Me and You, in the incantatory recitations Christine records for her videos, the last rites she gives to a doomed goldfish, and the solo mating dances she performs at the margins of the shoe department—flashing the reflected light of a compact mirror toward an unwitting Richard or attaching ornamental socks to her ears. Any tenuous offer of an emotional or sexual bond is treated like a dangerous dare. Richard and Christine finally exchange some flirtatious banter—imagining the sidewalk beneath their feet as a timeline of their hypothetical relationship—but he’s angered when she jumps impetuously into his car; Richard’s jolly colleague Andrew (Brad Henke) affixes lurid come-ons to the windows of his house but hides in panic when teenage neighbors Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) and Heather (Natasha Slayton) call his bluff.
Trying on their nascent feminine wiles and seeing how they fit, Rebecca and Heather also enlist doleful Peter as judge in a fellatio competition, while little Robby wins a passionate online admirer when he pens a surely unprecedented coprophiliac fantasy. As she proved in her bracing video
Nest of Tens (2000), July ascribes sexuality to persons under the age of consent without coyness or moral hectoring. And while Peter and Robby’s pain and alienation following their parents’ breakup are evident, Me and You absorbs rather than underlines them and refuses to sentimentalize the flexible forbearance of youth. When a regular customer asks after Richard’s boys and coos fatuously that kids are “so adaptable,” Richard replies, with weary self-indictment, “Yes, well, they have absolutely no control over their own lives, so . . . ”
Crisply photographed by Chuy Chavez and buoyed by winsome beep-and-buzz keyboards on the soundtrack, Me and You proceeds with childlike discursiveness. The film conjures a heightened reality where characters verbalize their thoughts, desires, and impulses without submitting them to the usual filters first; July takes in their foibles unblinkingly and folds them into an awkward, heartfelt embrace.