"Me and You and Everyone We Know"
3 ½ stars (out of four)
2 ½ stars (out of four)
We are all alone.
We e-mail our cubicle mates instead of talking. We screen calls. We watch reality TV. Reality weddings, if we're being honest. We wear headphones and ride the train without looking anyone in the eye. And no one looks at us.
And yet, argue two new movies in very different ways, we're all connected.
This paradox of contemporary urban living is the jumping off point for "Me and You and Everyone We Know" and "Heights," both of which explore how, though technology and anxiety threaten to isolate us, we're all still struggling to connect. Picking up on what has become the fashionable approach to the downtown drama, the films spin intersecting story lines, weaving together a city's lonely and lost souls to reveal, for good or bad, where they (we) all meet.
The melancholy, goofy "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is the very personal, very funny vision of performance artist Miranda July, whose name alone conjures a graceful whimsy, as though it ought to be written in the sky.
July opens the film herself, starring as Christine, a Los Angeles artist whose current project is to narrate other people's still photographs, bellowing into a microphone to give each borrowed print her own story. She moonlightsor daylights, as it wereas a driver for the elderly, running retirees on errands in her Elder Cab. Chaperoning one to the mall, Christine meets Richard (John Hawkes), a department store shoe salesman who talks her into a pair of cushioned pink ballet flats by assuring that, although she thinks she deserves the pain of her current shoes, she doesn't.
Richard is a soon-to-be-divorced father of two sons, prepared for, as he says in a tone both aspirational and delusional, "amazing things to happen." To mark in ceremony his marital separation, Richard runs out onto the front lawn, knocks on his sons' window and lights his hand on fire. (Later we learn Richard's uncle used to do the samebut with alcohol instead of lighter fluid, making it a trick, not mutilation. Oh.)
When Christine asks Richard about his bandaged-wrapped hand, he replies, "You want the long version or the short version?" "The long one," she says immediately, intuitively, thirsting to know him and hear someone else's story.
As Richard and Christine slowly tiptoe toward each other (their first "date" is a walk down a single L.A. block), we meet July's collage of young charactersand with them a fine slate of young actors. Richard's sons, 7-year-old Robby and 14-year-old Peter (Brandon Ratcliff and Miles Thompson), spend most of their time online, writing about bosoms to anonymous women in chat rooms (or, when Robby composes, about poop). Two flirty neighborhood girls eventually take Peter's sexual education off line and inspire in Richard's coworker some very adult urges.
(Sex, as a theme, hovers over both films, and here it's sweet and light and all about discovery, with the director never shaming her young explorers. July takes away the baggage and judgments because, to her, sex is all about human interaction and there's nothing dirty in that.)
Alone in her bedroom, waiting for Richard's call, Christine slips on her never-worn pink slippers, paints ME on one and YOU on the other and films their tortured pas de deux. The left foot edges right, then the right foot pulls away. It's a familiar dance, but something only July could invent, a vignette much like her characters: beautiful, flawed, organicfine alone but better with the others.
Which is why it's so hard to love "Heights," Chris Terrio's proficient and stylish take on a day in the life of five New York artist types. Adapted from a play by Amy Fox and produced by the late Ismail Merchant, "Heights" is a more calculated, boxed-in approach to the urban predicament, one that I rather enjoyed until I met July, who, fair or not, made me reconsider what it really means to be alone in the city. Technically, "Heights" centers on a lonely and longing photographer named Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), but the planets can't help but revolve around Glenn Close, who plays Isabel's mother, Diana Lee, a great dame of stage and screen reminiscent of Glenn Close. While mentoring a young actor (Jesse Bradford), micro-managing Isabel's upcoming nuptials and rehearsing a nouveau staging of Lady Macbeth (the three witches are Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney and Martha Stewart), Diana discovers her husband's extracurricular affair.
Embroiled in his own sexual escapade across town is Isabel's groom-to-be Jonathan (James Marsden), a chiseled suit-and-tie type with a hidden Marlboro habit and a questionable history with art scene superstar and proclaimed man-killer Benjamin Stone. When Stone's lover and biographer, on assignment for Vanity Fair, contacts Jonathan for an interview, things, well, unravel.
And unravel is actually the perfect word here, because "Heights" begins with a bundle of emotional betrayals and troubled souls who slowly, as one story folds into the next, come undone. These are not people me and you and everyone we know knowthese are "short version" people, characters who comfort each other by quoting Shakespeare.
Terrio's film is ultimately an entertaining, momentarily powerful but very cynical Venn diagram. Lives run into other lives because that's how it happened in "Magnolia" and "Crash," whereas July's dots just seem to connect themselves. And those that don't hang loose in the end, like Sylvie, a precocious pre-teen who meticulously hoards blenders and irons and plush towels in her hope chest, with the hope that one day she will bestow it all on her husband and daughter.
When July says her film was inspired by "the longing I carried around as a child, longing for the future, for someone to find me, for magic to descend upon my life and transform everything," you get the sense that Sylvie is her most closely held creation. And you get the sense that when Sylvie grows up, she'll sit among her collection of domestic appliances, maybe with a husband and kid, and feel alone. And then, at some point, she'll try not to be.
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'Me and You and Everyone We Know'
Directed and written by Miranda July; photographed by Chuy Chavez; edited by Andrew Dickler; production designed by Aran Mann; music by Mike Andrews; produced by Gina Kwon. An IFC Films release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Running time: 1:30. MPAA rating ("Me and You"): R (disturbing sexual content involving children, and for language).
Richard - John Hawkes
Christine - Miranda July
Robby - Brandon Ratcliff
Peter - Miles Thompson
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Directed by Chris Terrio; screenplay by Amy Fox, based on her play; photographed by Jim Denault; edited by Sloane Klevin; production designed by Marla Weinhoff; produced by Ismail Merchant and Richard Hawley. A Sony Pictures Classic release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:33. MPAA rating ("Heights"): R (language, brief sexuality and nudity).
Diana - Glenn Close
Isabel - Elizabeth Banks
Jonathan - James Marsden
Alec - Jesse Bradford
Peter - John Light
Rabbi Mendel - George Segal