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16.9.05

Me and You and Everyone We Know

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Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July's blog)
On a daily basis in Hollywood I am witness to about ten to twenty actors performing various scenes from classic plays and movies (with a little trash thrown in to keep ’em honest) in training for ‘the set’ or ‘the real world’ or whatever you want the call the inanity of casting and shooting films and TV in this town. Invariably, there are one or two actors or actresses by whom you are simply captivated. You watch their work and marvel at their facile transitions from moment to moment. Or how quickly they can bottom out and still manage to sculpt the text into something resembling a coherent point. And, invariably, there is a heart-sinking afterburn when one tries to imagine what this short-sighted town is going to do with them. Because, cliché or not, the truth of Hollywood is that there is a narrow margin of acceptable ‘types’ they are willing to deal with. One is either ‘the fat, funny guy’ or the ‘leading man’ or ‘the girl next door.’ In the casting offices there isn’t a large call for ‘the pretty, intelligent, idiosyncratic girl’…or if there is, it’s Rachel Leigh Cook wearing a pair of glasses.

In complete disregard of this type of thinking comes Miranda July, the creator and star of Me and You and Everyone We Know. July is at once beautiful, soulful, and interesting while managing to stand directly in the blind side of Hollywood thinking. Yet, one gets the notion that falling between the cracks isn’t some accidental misfortune of July’s but rather her life’s blood. An installation artist from New York, July has her film play out more as a narrative experiment than as a film that’s trying to find its way to the megaplex. In fact, one can imagine the dossier July would have doctored for her potential distributors:
To whom this may concern (please don’t be concerned!), in your screening of my project, Me and You and Everyone We Know (aka Loveshoes the Children) I would recommend it being projected only on bedsheets. Preferably those from Target or K-Mart in the tone of blue/emerald or periwinkle. I like the junior comforters as well. If projected on a wall or ceiling, I’d prefer ceiling…
Dare I say it, July is too interesting for popular edification. Yet, there is nothing inaccessible or high-minded in the movie. It simply is interested in rituals (invented or observed) and goings-on of the everyday and the absurd. In much the same way that Terry Zwigof’s Crumb and Ghost World were comic books of the marginalized, July creates an epic on the head of a pin. Here is a world where a couple uses a two-block walk as a metaphor for their life, relationship, and death (at which point July attempts to push it to the ‘afterlife’ by jumping in his car and is informed she’s taken it too far).

In this world where the everyday becomes art and ceremony, adults and children seamlessly meld together in this lost world of unrequited love, curiosity, and desperation for ‘something to happen’. Indeed, a father has a discussion while selling shoes where he states, “I’m waiting for something exceptional to happen, I’m ready, for like my kids to tell me they have superpowers.” So much so, there may be people put off by this very crossover where young children are seeking sexual taboos and adults are seeking the inspiration of children.

The youngest of them, Robby (played by Brandon Ratcliff), embodies this notion most directly. On a computer where his brother and he were previously etching a Bengal tiger on the screen out of punctuation marks, Robby finds his way to an Internet chat room. Here with simple cut and paste cues and button pushes he manages to create a dialogue in which the recipient thinks he’s an adult taunting him sexually. It’s a testament to the film and where July is coming from that the potential offense of this scenario didn’t occur to me until long after leaving the theater. What was more comic and enlightening in the moment was how absurd adults behave in seeking something as simple and childlike as intimacy and attention. Robby and this anonymous person are both lonely, and the bizarre language of sexual perversity seems a fit for both child and adult alike.

July has captured one of the simplest and most elusive things in Ratcliff. Childhood. In film and television, we are often exposed to two extremes in children’s portrayal. We are given the child savant that seems to have the exact same thoughts and feelings as adults. In the savant, we are simply charmed and impressed with a mini-adult who constantly points out the inanities of adulthood and our ironies and constantly informs us that they ‘get it’. This can be seen in such examples as Haley Joel Osment (Sixth Sense), Dakota Fanning (everything released this year), or the more obscure but no less striking in his day, Charlie Corsmo (Dick Tracy and Men Don’t Leave). While we all fantasize that our children will be sophisticated adults by the age of eight, I’m sure this dreaded phenomenon runs its course when baby Einstein starts pointing out Mommy’s contradictions.

On the other end of the scale we have the Sound Bite Kids. Here we have Jonathon Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire who can do nothing but espouse nonlinear aphorisms of youth. “Did you know dogs and bees can smell fear!” These children are bred in the thousands in Hollywood and can be found in waiting rooms across town with their parents coaching them line by line with a cracker in one hand and sides in another. These children live by the Pavlovian response of ‘awww’ in the audience and remind us that children are the future.

In Ratcliff, July either found, coached, or was graced with an actual child who is capable of being a child on screen. I never had the impression that Ratcliff was a particularly good actor. No, thank goodness. He simply was. Neither beyond his years or dumbed down to create sympathy, Robby has the benefit of July’s keen writing and an actual story line of his own to play out. Capable, bold, and yet sublimely vulnerable, Robby carries all the contradictions of his age. He treads where so many others fear to go.

There is, without a doubt, a certain extremeness to Miranda July that is not for all tastes. Some may find the film a bit cloying or overcrowded with its own originality. (“No, seriously, I can’t take that much individuality.”) She certainly balances on her graffitied toe-shoes on the line between singular and refreshing and excessive and cluttered. Or, in the words of a colleague of mine, “Dude, she reminds me of that crazy art chick I dated in college.” Indeed. Personally, I found myself laughing out loud in a dark theater alone in the middle of the afternoon. If one can’t wrangle a screening on a bedsheet, I have a feeling July would have wanted it this way.

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