By Caroline Nelson ‘16Film Columnist
The opening of Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” effectively sets up the tone of the rest of the film: a conceptual artist records a pretentious voice-over and a newly divorced man sets his hand on fire. That is to say, this picture is simultaneously deeply sincere and deeply affected—sometimes at the same time. This is probably the result of its high ambitions, which it can’t always live up to. Still, as a portrait of a collection of lost souls connecting and interacting, it succeeds quiet brilliantly.
Chief amongst these lost souls is Christine (the alter ego of Miranda July, who wrote, directed, and starre in the film). Christine is a charming mess of insecurity and sincerity brought to life by Ms. July’s soulful performance. If only her art wasn’t included. Not only would she be a more interesting and endearing character, but it would also significantly improve the quality of the film. Since July got her start as a conceptual artist, though, it isn’t entirely surprising, but it does mean that many of the scenes involving an art gallery, which she tries to convince to show her work, feel like a “take that” to the art world for July’s own past rejections.
Christine’s love interest is Richard, a shoe salesman whose wife recently decided to kick him out of the house (which prompted him to engage in the previously mentioned act of self-immolation). His insanity makes a kind of sense because of the phenomenally talented John Hawkes. Hawkes is one of the most riveting and emotionally honest actors on the screen, whose subtlety requires careful attention to fully appreciate. Richard is almost incapable of dealing with normality and often gives the impression that he might be from another planet (figuratively speaking—this movie isn’t that strange). But this discontent and desire to invest meaning in the banality of the everyday is what ultimately brings Richard and Christine together.
In addition to the leads, there is an elderly couple who have just found love (only to have too little time to enjoy it), Richard’s distant sons (who spend all their time on the computer), a cold art gallery owner, and a little girl obsessed with compiling her hope chest.
One of the nice things about this film’s clear status as independent is that it liberates the characters from big-budget blandness or the acceptably low level of idiosyncrasy that gets branded as “quirky.” Of course one of the consequences of this is that the film is often uncomfortable. Two teenage girls engage in a bizarre, possibly illegal flirtation with one of Richard’s coworkers and a young boy wanders into an Internet chat room where a silly comment of his is mistaken for a sexual kink. Furthermore, much of the characters’ odd behavior is grounded in their desire to overcome alienation or create a counter-narrative to their lives. The little girl with the hope chest, for instance, creates a fantasy of her future and the happy family she will have to escape her present: her absent father, her distant and cold mother, and her maturity beyond her years.
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” is about modernity, community, sexual mores, art, and “the digital age.” While it is interesting and thoughtful, it is not fully realized. A piece of art that spends so much time reaching for profundity is bound to touch it every now and again, and that makes up for any awkwardness getting there.