A Quirky Pick-'Me'-Up

Peter (Miles Thompson, left) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) in
Peter (Miles Thompson, left) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) in "Me and You and Everyone We Know." (Ifc Films)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

OH, THE SHEER oogy discomfort of "Me and You and Everyone We Know," as 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) and his 14-year-old brother, Peter (Miles Thompson), find themselves caught in an intimate e-mail encounter with a stranger.

The boys, sitting side by side in front of the computer at home, have been sending out mischievous instant messages. Now they have reached someone considerably older. He or she is responding with increasingly steamy comments. Clearly, whoever it is has mistaken the brothers for an adventurous grown-up.

As the going gets more risque, little Robby searches his brain for something appropriately edgy to post. He turns to his brother and -- without me going into details -- suggests something that incorporates a body function with a sort of New Age-like invitation. It is one oddball statement. Peter looks at his kid brother in disbelief. Does Robby really want to say that? Robby is adamant. Yep.

Uh-oh. The audience has its collective heart in its mouth, wondering as one: Where is the movie going with this?

Peter shrugs and taps on the keyboard. Robby's weirdo message goes out into cyberspace.

There's a slight pause. The response comes.

"You are crazy and you are making me very hot."

Now the boys are really perplexed. But instead of becoming more sordid and scary, the scene is getting funnier. Those boys are really rather innocent, so sweet. Now they've got a problem.

This is just one of many screwy but whimsically enchanting surprises in Miranda July's feature debut. You never know what's coming. But as you get used to her quirky, ingenious rhythms, you thrill to the experience. You won't be the first. "Me and You" won a special jury prize for originality at the Sundance Film Festival, and it took the prestigious Camera d'Or (first-timer's award) at Cannes. But July's no neophyte to artistic expression. She's a short-story writer and an established performance artist who has made many creative, unconventional film and video shorts. (See Film Notes on Page 38.)

She also plays one of the principal characters, Christine Jesperson, a performance artist who has been trying to get her comical video work recognized by a particularly dour museum curator. She makes money, in the meantime, driving an "Eldercab" for regular customer Michael (Hector Elias), who has fallen in love in his seventies. Out shopping one day, Christine becomes attracted to Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), a doe-eyed shoe salesman who happens to be the father of the aforementioned brothers.

Richard, who's separated from his wife and is sharing custody of the boys, is a strange one. He deliberately immolated his hand, as a sort of symbolic gesture of mourning. But he didn't realize lighter fluid really burns. With one bandaged hand, he goes to work while his kids, well, get on the Internet.

The story's too complex and precious to render here. But it hums with compassion for its outlandish, lonely but always sweet characters. Even though Christine pursues Richard with a vigor that could provoke a restraining order, she's so sweethearted, there is little menace. She's no bunny boiler. And besides, we have the distinct hunch that Richard will appreciate her just as soon as he gets his muddled head together.

Idiosyncrasy is the operative word for these characters. Everyone operates on eccentric impulse rather than formulaic predictability. The children speak like adults, and the adults speak like children. And none of the actors playing them have been drawn from the master race celebrity set. Hawkes, a supporting player for most of his career in such movies as "The Perfect Storm" and "Rush Hour" is no cover boy. And strikingly attractive as she is, July is unlikely to be putting out her own perfume line anytime soon. Yet you can't take your eyes off her or those other faces.

"Me and You" is really about the found poetry of everyday life. (In a strange way, July is what Emily Dickinson might have become, if she had grown up in this age and become an indie filmmaker.) The commonplace is rendered oddly spectacular. Christine is driving Michael, for instance, when they both see a goldfish in a plastic bag of water, precariously perched atop a moving vehicle. In this movie's laid-back equivalent of a "French Connection" car chase, Christine and Michael follow the car, hoping to somehow save the fish. When the bag slides off the car and lands on the back of another car, things get even more tense. The delicate combination of comedy, tragedy and suspense is excruciating and downright fabulous. And you are, once again, hooked into a scene that could lead you anywhere.

ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (R, 90 minutes) -- Contains obscenity and disturbing content involving children. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company