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'Me and You' is odd but astounding



Published: Thu, August 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



What works in this film is its sense of wonderment: You're never sure what's happening next, and the characters aren't either.

By MOIRA MACDONALD

SEATTLE TIMES

As in most romantic comedies, from the moment we meet Richard (John Hawkes) and Christine (Miranda July) in the uneven but often captivating "Me and You and Everyone We Know," we know they're meant to be together. Richard, a scruffy, unfinished-looking sad sack, is first seen with his soon-to-be-ex wife, dividing up their belongings. He looks lost; she looks certain. Shouldn't there be some kind of ceremony, he wonders aloud, to mark this moment?

Christine, a pretty, slightly vague young woman with a head full of sausagey curls, is a struggling artist and a driver in a cab service for senior citizens. While delivering a passenger, she notices that another car has pulled away with a bagged goldfish on its roof; clearly the fish will fall to its death. It's the goldfish's final moments of life, she notes, asking, "Shall we say some words?"

Transcending normal

This love of ceremony, of lifting the mundane into a more exalted realm, is a theme in "Me and You," and it's clearly the thread that holds Richard and Christine together, though true to romantic comedy tradition, love takes a while to find its way. Written and directed by July (a performance and visual artist as well as a writer and filmmaker), it's an odd little movie; at times quirkily charming, at times off-putting.

However, "Me and You," which opened the Seattle International Film Festival in May (and won in July the Camera d'Or for best first feature at the Cannes International Film Festival) is definitely a promising start to a career. July is only 31 and it'll be fascinating to see where she goes after this.

What works in her film is its sense of wonderment; we're never sure what's happening next, and the characters aren't either. Their world is a little topsy-turvy -- as befits a movie that ends with a framed picture of a bird hanging not on a wall, but in the branches of a tree. The adults are childlike, and the children are startlingly adult.

Serious kids

As Richard adjusts to life as a single dad, his sons are exploring a new world. Fourteen-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) finds himself learning about sexuality from two neighborhood teenage girls, in a scene that's uncomfortable to watch (though there's no nudity or sexual activity on camera) but rings true to adolescent behavior.

More problematic are the scenes in which 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), through a rather farfetched scenario, has Internet sex with an anonymous stranger. July's intent here is clearly to show Robby's innocence -- he thinks the whole thing is a bathroom joke -- but the result is a bit precious and more than a little distasteful.

July, though, does beautiful work with Carlie Westerman, who plays the family's unhappy 10-year-old neighbor Sylvie. The little girl, with an expression as focused as a cat stalking a mouse, has a firm purpose in her life: to collect the things she'll need to be happy as a grown-up. She has a "hope closet" full of blenders, towels, pink shower curtains and other housewares: symbols of the perfect life she wants someday. In that life, she tells Peter seriously, she'll have a daughter, and every day she'll tell that daughter, "You are a precious treasure."

Wistful, lovely moments like these elevate "Me and You," as we gradually become attached to Richard and Christine (though it's never clear whether Christine's art is supposed to be any good) and root for them to find each other. Like that bird picture in the tree, it's an odd match -- but the longer you look at it, the prettier it becomes. July's oddball vision grows on you, and I found myself looking forward to her next film. "Me and You," despite its flaws, is compelling -- an appealing artist still finding her voice.




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