Fresh-Faced 'Me and You': Six Degrees of Connection

Miranda July writes, directs and stars in her award-winning film
Miranda July writes, directs and stars in her award-winning film "Me and You and Everyone We Know," about a struggling artist's relationships. (Ifc Films)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

"Me and You and Everyone We Know" has won scads of awards on the festival circuit this year, most notably at Cannes and Sundance, where it earned a special award for "originality of vision." That honor is deserved for a film that could be described as quirky, were that term not so insultingly patronizing.

The writer-director Miranda July, whose experimental films, performance pieces and installations have made her something of a star in the art world in recent years, has made a bona fide movie-movie, a film whose sharp writing evokes belly laughs as often as it does moments of bittersweet reflection. What's more, she has introduced audiences to a cast of thoroughly fresh faces. Her ensemble of mostly young actors -- July included -- bring vitality, humor and unpredictability to a deceptively ambitious enterprise.

That enterprise, simply put, is to explore E.M. Forster's old admonition to "only connect." Throughout "Me and You and Everyone We Know," characters meet, separate and intersect again, much as they do in this summer's sleeper hit, "Crash." Like that often too-pat morality tale, this is a movie about the ways we hit and miss with one another, craving intimacy but shying away from it when it becomes too risky. But where "Crash" is weighted down with its own sense of higher purpose, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is delightfully light on its feet, suffused with a knowing humor that is more sweetly careworn than cynical.

At the center of this round-robin story is Christine (played by July), a struggling artist whose day job is driving senior citizens on errands. While taking her favorite customer, Michael (Hector Elias), to buy shoes one day, she meets Richard (John Hawkes), a scruffy Peter Pan who has just separated from his wife and is still working out custody arrangements for his two young sons. There's a spark between Christine and Richard, and they almost immediately embark on a jokey, self-conscious flirtation. But when Christine ups the ante by suddenly jumping into Richard's car, he recoils, insisting that she doesn't really know him. "What if I were a killer of children?" he asks. "That would put a damper on things, wouldn't it," she says.

It's a funny moment, but also heartbreaking for the tiny glimmer of hope that shines in July's face, which possesses the classic charm of a Golden Age actress. Indeed, the line bears a resemblance to the "Nobody's perfect" kicker in "Some Like It Hot," which is appropriate for a film whose roots seem to lie in the great screwball comedies as much as in the experimental avant-garde.

Throughout "Me and You," Christine trips and fumbles her way toward some kind of understanding of life, and it's clear that whether the territory is work or relationships, this is a world that July knows well. The scenes in the local museum where Christine hopes to show her work are hilariously on-point revelations of the absurdities of the contemporary art world, and Christine's stubborn refusal to let go of a man she barely knows will strike a chord of recognition in people who have impetuously put all their emotional eggs in an unlikely basket.

Other characters' stories weave in and out of Christine and Richard's, most notably those of Richard's two sons, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). While 14-year-old Peter is getting to know some girls in his dad's new neighborhood -- two sexually precocious older teenage girls reminiscent of the lead characters in "Ghost World," and one younger girl who has begun obsessively to collect her future dowry -- the 7-year-old Robby has entered into a risque online relationship with an anonymous e-mailer. July has coaxed extraordinary performances from a cast of consistently outstanding young players, but on the heels of the Michael Jackson trial and such recent films as "Mysterious Skin" and "The Holy Girl," July's treatment of sexuality between adults and children will strike many viewers as too glib by half. In the benevolent world of her creation, children aren't victims so much as foils for the loneliness and thwarted desires of the misguided but essentially good-hearted adults around them.

That might be a stretch, but like her lead character, July is less interested in conflict than in connections -- the invisible threads that form the social web around her as well as those she tries to forge with other people. As in an early, improbably amusing vignette, when Christine and Michael try to save the life of a goldfish in a bag left on top of a moving car, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is about the fragility of our fleeting contacts with one another and the imperfect heroism it takes to keep trying. All the way to the film's closing image of a little boy banging on a pole with a quarter because he thinks it makes the sun rise, this is a wise, funny film about the little leaps of faith it takes to just get through the day.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (90 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is rated R for disturbing sexual content involving children, and for language.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company