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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (2005)

If I told you that one of the main characters in “Me and You and Everyone We Know” was a part time performance artist and a full time hired driver for elderly people, you would probably think you had little to nothing in common with her. You might also think that way of the shoe salesman who mutilates himself as a way of saving himself. You might feel as though you’re on the outside of the world in which these characters live, but how do you know how odd their behavior is until you measure it against your own? As the movie went on, I realized I had more in common with these two people than I ever thought possible.

It just so happens that the performance art depicted in this film carries plenty of charm and wit, but it’s also beside the point. The character doing it, Christine Jesperson (played by writer-director and real life performance artist Miranda July), has many of the same wants and needs as the rest of us. She wants her work to be noticed. She wants the attention of the odd shoe salesman who says things to her that no one else will. She wants to save the life of a goldfish in distress. She shares many of our insecurities and frustrations. We don’t know a whole lot about her, but we’re with her nonetheless as she tries to start up a relationship with the shoe salesman.

This character named Richard Swersey may be a different story, but he’s played wonderfully by John Hawkes (“Deadwood”). Richard has just separated from his wife and, as a result, moved out. Their two kids, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), visit Richard and use their computer to Instant Message total strangers and engage in hilariously grotesque sexual dialogue (I’m using “sexual” very loosely here, but I wouldn’t dream of giving anything away).

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s neighbors, Andrew (Brad William Henke), also engages in a sexual dialogue of a different sort when he meets two teenage girls, Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) and Heather (Natasha Slayton). They come on to him suspiciously and he backs off knowing full well they couldn’t possibly be 18. As the days go by, he leaves little messages for them as a sign that, if nothing else, he enjoys their company.

As you have probably guessed by now, “Me and You” tells multiple stories, all of which intertwine at some point. It’s not done in a jigsaw puzzle sort of way, but in a simpler, smoother way, as though the “Everyone We Know” in the title refers to the disconnect these people have with almost everyone around them. It’s a small world Miranda July has created and the film comments on how the digital media has helped cause that disconnect. “We wouldn’t have email if it wasn’t for AIDS,” one character states, noting our fear of contact and contamination with the outside world.

But “Me and You” never becomes heavy handed or disengaging. Because it’s a quirky film made by a performance artist (much like David Byrne’s “True Stories”), it has an off center view of the world and characters say things we would never hear coming from the mouths of real people in our own lives. Within this dialogue lurks a poetic sensibility not unlike what you’d hear in a David Gordon Green film. Much of it sounds odd, yet completely natural.

It helps to have a cast as good as this. Miranda July has natural charm and adorableness that puts her in the same league as Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer. She truly lights up the screen. As Richard, John Hawkes hides the character’s insecurities and foibles under a rough exterior, but not so much that we can’t identify with him. The two make an unlikely pair (if they can ever get the nerve to call one another), but the pursuit has plenty of rewards, both for the characters and the viewer. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful performance by young Brandon Ratcliff, whom I’m guessing is about six or seven years old, but has to deliver a line that would make most kids his age burst out with laughter. He delivers it deadpan like a pro.

“Me and You” bookends itself with a sunset, one of which deceives us while the other one makes us wonder. It’s a movie about the adventure life has to offer, even in the form of department stores, hope chests and goldfish. That may not sound adventurous, but it’s only because you can’t yet see the world through the eyes of these interesting people. We don’t get to know them too well, but their eccentricities somehow speak volumes. There’s a lid for every pot, this movie suggests, even if both objects are completely different shapes. Makes you wonder.

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