Me and You and Everyone We Know

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Writer-director-star Miranda July’s ode to human connection in the Internet age is this year’s Sundance success story, and comes loaded with the usual hype. However, only a fraction of it is deserved. Borrowing themes from movies like Happiness or The Station Agent, July presents a drab-yet-colorful visual style a la Ghost World. She costumes her characters in frumpy secretary blouses and ill-fitting, thrift-store suits, and tops it all off with a score that sounds suspiciously like the Postal Service. The movie contains a few moments that work beautifully and others that don’t work at all. It’s so indie, it hurts.

In fact, self-inflicted pain is one of the movie’s main concepts: It begins with a man setting his arm on fire. That man is Richard (John Hawkes), a humble shoe salesman and father of two who’s radically distraught over his wife’s recent separation. Like everyone else in the movie, he’s prone to blabbering his innermost feelings to anyone who’ll listen, including his crude co-worker Andrew (Brad Henke) or his reclusive sons Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). Into his store and his life waltzes Christine (July), a kooky video artist who pays the bills by chauffeuring senior citizens to and from their rest homes. The main story line chronicles Richard and Christine’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance, but there’s plenty of room for other, loosely interconnected subplots: Andrew’s raunchy flirtation with two teenage girls, the girls’ trial-run seduction of Peter, and Peter’s Internet sex chat-room obsession, which he passes on to the much younger, hilariously clueless Robbie.

What is meant to be profound in Me and You comes off as precious. Though the teens and preteens are all obsessed with sex, July’s adult characters want nothing more than to “sleep together like babies,” and they struggle to make even the most minor personal contact. Everyone is constantly devising little games and trials for the others to overcome, whether through e-mail symbols or cell phone messages or homemade videos, like the cutesy ones Christine submits to museums. In these scenes, July’s view of the art world is both facile and self-serving. “E-mail wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for AIDS,” a pretentious curator says when choosing a photo for a “digital age” exhibit; the line is obviously a swipe at art snobs, but it’s so over-the-top, it pushes the movie into the realm of broad, heartless caricature.

The one member of the cast who knows what to do with July’s erratic dialogue is Hawkes, an actor who can make every line — even the bad ones — sing. Whether he’s asking his sons to stop twiddling their feet or pontificating about the Zen beauty of the world, Hawkes ties all of his character’s idiosyncrasies into one coherent whole. He seems to understand that no one is just weird for weirdness’ sake, and his strange behavior is a direct response to personal trauma. And until July grasps that concept, her movies will continue to be little more than random assortments of quirks in search of a meaning.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theater (118 N. Main, Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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