- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

“Me and You and Everyone We Know” presumes that art-house audiences will be willing to acknowledge a common humanity with the forlorn or immature suburban characters depicted by writer-director-leading-lady Miranda July. Nathanael West isn’t the only baleful influence on her debut feature.

Having gravitated to the movies from performance art on the West Coast, Miss July, who casts herself as a delicate and vulnerable Miss Lonelyhearts named Christine, appears to envision herself as a muse for lovelorn grotesques who could be deeply disturbed, sooner or later. They dwell in the San Fernando Valley, the recent stamping grounds of Paul Thomas Anderson in “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love.”

Her outlook, alternately pitying and mocking, allows generous room for sick humor. It’s difficult to decide if she has more in common with the disenchanting New Jersey misanthrope Todd Solondz or the Utah misanthrope Neil LaBute. Their 1998 movies, “Happiness” and “Your Friends & Neighbors,” respectively, might have engendered “Me and You.”

Christine is an aspiring video artist who operates a cab service for the elderly and awaits an avant-garde museum’s verdict on her audition tape. She becomes smitten with a divorced calamity named Richard (John Hawkes), spotted at his job in a shoe store. He has suffered a crippling injury that somewhat impedes his salesmanship: severe burns on one arm, incurred trying to impress his two sons with a pyrotechnic stunt.

The boys, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) and 6-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), prefer to stay with their mother, though Dad’s place offers one advantage: He isn’t around much, permitting them to surf sex Web sites. In the most dubious of Miss July’s subplots, precocious Robby locates a correspondent as fixated on scatological chatter as he is. The privacy of the residence also permits Peter to become the test subject of 16-year-olds named Rebecca and Heather (Carlie Westerman and Natasha Slayton), keen on sharpening their techniques.

These valley girls gone wild also cultivate a flirtation with a neighborhood freak who likes to leave them lewd notes in his bedroom window (in plain view of all pedestrian traffic) but seems reluctant to risk statutory rape. For which restraint I was astonished and grateful.

Miss July’s willingness to link her most obscene gambits to juvenile characters looms as a deal-breaker for many spectators who might otherwise be curious about how she intends to trifle with the psychopathology of quietly desperate everyday life.

The filmmaker herself is a distinctive fragile presence, so slim and melancholy that it might not be all that suspenseful to see her heartbroken or victimized in anyone’s movie. One glimpse, one remark, and you’ve kind of written her off as sacrificial to a fault.

She does bring a striking, hard-edged graphic sense to movie composition: The color saturation is so lush and crisp that it made me long for the heyday of vintage Hollywood redheads in guilt-free erotic fantasies.

Despite the rough going in her first movie as director, Miranda July is not without promise. With luck, she may lose interest in wretched excess.

* 1/2

TITLE: “Me and You and Everyone We Know”

RATING: R (Recurrent lewd and morbid elements, occasional profanity, sexually explicit episodes involving perverse teenage girls, a subplot about the scatological fixation of a little boy)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Miranda July. Cinematography by Chuy Chavez. Production design by Aran Mann. Costume design by Christie Wittenborn. Music by Mike Andrews.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.meandyoumovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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