Writer, director, and star Miranda July’s refreshing feature debut “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” contains all of the hallmarks of an outstanding independent film––quirky characters, artfully composed shots and hypnotic music.
Yet this charming comedy-drama is never pretentious; it is simply an engaging character study about a handful of people navigating life, relationships and of course, sex.
Christine (July) is a performance artist hoping to get a show at a local gallery. One day she meets Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman with two sons who is separated from his wife. These two lonely hearts bond, but, the film asks, do they connect? Their subsequent encounters are filled with all the hope and tensions of a potential relationship, but it is unclear if they are truly well suited to each other.
Meanwhile, two teenage girls flirt with a stranger, prompting him to post salacious messages in his apartment windows, and Richard’s two sons are each carrying on their own correspondences using rather foul-minded messages in a computer chat room.
The film treads some very dangerous ice––including having a very young child make an obscene suggestion to an adult who is, actually, turned on by the idea—but July treats her characters intelligently, never unnecessarily exploiting the prurient nature of what is being discussed or depicted.
In the process, she adroitly makes the point that when it comes to relationships and sex, children are no-nonsense while adults behave like idiots. This is particularly true in the courtship between Christine and Richard, and in the chat room exchanges, but it is also apparent in the film’s most peculiar scene, when the teenage girls experiment with performing oral sex on Richard’s older son.
July celebrates her characters, and clearly has tremendous affection for each of them. The film is full of disarming, deadpan humor as when Richard tells Christine the long and short versions of why one of his hands is bandaged. This scene is sweet and funny because viewers know and care about these characters. Likewise, the couple’s early conversation about their relationship lasting the length of a city block is endearing, and lends hope to their cockeyed romance.
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” also features some unexpectedly precious moments, as when Christine is driving on the highway alongside a car that has a goldfish in a bag on its roof. As the characters try to negotiate the animal’s safety—it will die when the car stops—they come to realize that it is impossible to do so. This is a metaphor for this diverting film about people who must learn to deal with their own and each other’s foibles. July captures so much emotion succinctly, and it seems, effortlessly.
If the screenplay is excellent, so too is the casting. July gives a terrific performance, and unlike many writer-director-actors, she never comes across on screen as an egomaniac. In fact, she would seem to be quite the opposite, a low-key, levelheaded filmmaker with a simple message, expressed well. July is not afraid to be awkward or embarrassing on screen, nor is she afraid to be shy. She conveys a full range of her character’s emotions, and is well suited to her role—no one else could play Christine and give her the same loopy spin. That is what makes her performance, not to mention the film itself, so exciting.
In support, John Hawkes is a perfect foil, and he has the proper comic timing to keep things slightly off balance. The children in the film also give very good performances especially considering the degree of difficulty in their roles. July deserves special credit for casting such fine young actors. Even the minor characters, like Richard’s ex-wife, who wears T-shirts that empower her, are expertly drawn. July gets all of the details just right.
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” is a film to seek out and get to know.