Performance artist Miranda July has long trafficked in short pieces, and it shows: Her feature-length debut is packed with arresting images, moments, and single lines of dialogue. To wit: a young girl dreamily inhales the chemical smell of a newly opened shower liner; a goldfish’s life hangs in the balance; a man explains his badly burned hand: "I was trying to save my life and it didn’t work." These moments succeed, on a micro level, in illuminating the plight of people trying – and usually failing – to connect. It’s the macro, alas, where Me and You and Everyone We Know
gets murkier. The film (which received top awards this year at Sundance and Cannes) opens with July, as a struggling performance artist named Christine, narrating a new work. It’s clear from her various video pieces that Christine is fixated on love, and she thinks she may have found it in Richard (Hawkes), a newly divorced single dad and shoe salesman. Richard is raising his boys, 13-year-old Peter (Thompson) and 6-year-old Robby (Ratcliff), mostly alone; the boys, in turn, are testing out their sexuality and need for nurturing in startling ways. There are several satellite stories – a pair of teenaged girls flirt with a middle-aged neighbor; a 10-year-old girl with a home-appliance fetish is amassing a trousseau – and it’s a testament to July’s generosity that she allows her own character to take a backseat to these stories. In fact, Christine’s story proves the most inessential in this ensemble piece – and the most cloying, too (especially in its saccharine sidebar involving her relationship with an elderly couple in love). July indulges her character with a sort of hyperpoeticism; that, coupled with the film’s plunking xylophone score, announce with a sledgehammer’s subtlety that you are witnessing something terribly sensitive, terribly eccentric. At one point, Christine hops into Richard’s car – he’s practically a stranger – and she dials up her dysfunctional charm, only for him to turn to her and ask with real alarm, "What are you doing in my car?
" It’s a bracing bitchslap of a moment, a welcome blast of ice water on the overbearing quirkiness of Christine – and maybe July. Would that there were more moments like this. July sees the world in a most unexpected way, and it’s a shame that Me and You
’s preciousness sometimes overwhelms that uniqueness of vision. What does
withstand the precious assault are the devastating performances from Hawkes (Deadwood)
and the young Thompson and Ratcliff. These three feel resolutely human, in their pain, confusion, and good intentions that almost always go bad. If you cut any one of them, there’s no doubt they’d bleed but good. Cut Christine – and maybe July – and I fear something terribly sensitive, terribly eccentric might spring from her veins instead.