by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: Miranda July
Cast: John Hawkes, Miranda July, Miles Thompson
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 82% Certified Fresh
PLOT: A lonely shoe salesman and an eccentric performance artist struggle to connect in this unique take on contemporary life.
There is a scene in Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miranda July’s directorial debut, where Christine, an aspiring artist played by July herself, has submitted a videotape of her experimental video shorts to a museum curator who’s looking for examples of new art in a digital world. At the end of the video, July addresses the camera and bemoans the fact that the curator will probably never watch the tape or get that far. She pleads: “If you are watching this, then just call this number, the number you see on your screen, and say, ‘macaroni.’ …Just ‘macaroni’ and hang up. No questions asked.”
In that moment, in the middle of a movie where I was never bored but constantly off-balance, I connected with Christine. I’m guessing other people do, too, but I’m just guessing. Who among us has never wanted validation or confirmation from someone, anyone, the world, that, yes, I see you and I hear you? That right there is one of the reasons I do theatre, man. I don’t always talk about it, but it’s there. And I appreciated seeing that heartfelt emotion acted out in such a quirky and direct way.
That’s just one of the charms of this movie that defies description. It’s a romantic dramedy where the two ostensible romantic leads can function around other people, but just barely. There is also a subplot about two young boys who are bullied by two witless teenage girls. How witless? They thoughtlessly flirt with a much older man who starts leaving sexually graphic notes on his living room window so the girls can see them as they walk to school. I won’t even tell you how their bullying of the two boys leads to the kind of sexual experimentation I devoutly hope doesn’t happen…but probably does more than I would care to admit.
Now, I’m making this sound like a Larry Clark movie (Kids, Bully), but it’s not. The main story involves Christine and Richard (John Hawkes), a recently separated father (of the two young boys). Richard works at a shoe store and is a hopeless romantic, not just when it comes to love, but life in general. He tells his co-worker, “I want to be swept off my feet, you know? I want my children to have magical powers. I am prepared for amazing things to happen.” But his idealism sometimes moves him to do and say odd things. Near the beginning of the film, as he’s preparing to move out of his house and into a small apartment, he runs out to his front yard, gets his kids’ attention, and carefully and methodically uses lighter fluid to set his hand on fire. Why? His explanation (if I remember it correctly) is semi-reasonable, but I can’t help thinking there might have been a better way to demonstrate his thought process.
Christine is an aspiring artist who makes short experimental videos in which she provides voice-overs to still photographs. In my mind, they are examples of how she might relate to people in real life if she weren’t so terrified of how other people might respond if she reaches out to them in person. Her day job is as a taxi service for the elderly – sort of a proto-Uber service. One day she drives a client to the shoe store where Richard works. Richard notices small scars on Christine’s ankles. She says her shoes rub her ankles, but all shoes do that because she has low ankles. Richard looks her dead in the eye and says one of the best lines in the film: “You think you deserve that pain, but you don’t.”
Something passes between them, and the rest of the film, as far as these two are concerned, is about getting these two dysfunctional people together. There are obstacles, of course. A sick kid, an unexpected visit from the ex-wife, some examples of logic that seems rude but really isn’t. It’s hard to explain. But theirs is the thread that holds the rest of this weird film together.
And weird it is…but in that good way, you know? Richard’s two sons are Robby, maybe 7 years old, and Peter, probably about 12 or 13, right when the hormones are kicking in. In their off time, Peter visits an online chat room where he starts interacting someone who calls themselves “Untitled.” (He calls himself “NightWarrior.”) Their conversation gets racy. If you think this is improper or immoral to show in a film, allow me to direct you to my own experiences on AOL chat rooms when I was that age. (That’s one of the things the movie gets exactly right: the teenage boy’s curiosity/fascination about sex.) Thing is, Peter is doing the chatting with Robby right there next to him. Robby has no idea what he’s reading. When Peter jokingly asks Robby for something dirty to type, Robby launches into this incredibly detailed scatological description of what he thinks is dirty. At first, I was a little shocked, but then I started laughing because this is something else the screenplay gets exactly right. Ask a really little kid to say the dirtiest thing they can think of, and this is the kind of thing you’re most likely to hear.
The movie is full of little moments like that. The main love story is tooling along, and suddenly a store-bought goldfish is left on top of someone’s car in a baggie. We’re watching Christine agonize over whether to call Richard or not, and then those two teenage girls from before persuade Peter, the teenage son, to let them give him what they call a “Jimmy Ha Ha.” It’s exactly what you’re thinking. Why do they do this? Because they want to settle an argument over which of them can do it better. Where were those girls when I was in high school???
And don’t even get me started about what happens when Robby, the youngest boy, starts posing as NightWarrior and chats with Untitled on his own. This exceedingly weird situation, which I can honestly say I’ve never seen in any other movie before, leads to a moment when Untitled asks to meet NightWarrior in person. The payoff of this story thread is sure to divide audiences, but I found it both hilarious and oddly touching.
If I’m making the movie sound like a mixed bag, well, it is. But nothing ever goes too far in the taste department. The perv who leaves graphic notes on his window has an interesting reaction when his bluff is called. The Untitled/NightWarrior stuff comes to a proper close, in my opinion. And Richard and Christine? Well…what kind of romantic dramedy ends with the lovers NOT getting together, right?
Bottom line: Me and You and Everyone We Know is constantly engaging, constantly weird, but never boring, never conventional. It held my interest for 90 minutes. That’s more than I can say for most romantic dramedies involving poop jokes and “Jimmy Ha Ha’s.”