Some films (and books, for that matter) are not especially promising in the first few minutes, and you have to be patient and give them a chance to draw you in. When we watched "Me and You and Everyone We Know" ("MAYAEWK" to save my typing fingers a bit) at the weekend, Mr. Bsag asked after ten minutes "Remind me why we decided to rent this again?". However MAYAEWK is well worth a little patience.
The plot has a number of strands, following a group of inter-related characters. Christine (played by director Miranda July) is a video performance artist, giving a voice and narrative to people's family snapshots, and trying to get her work exhibited by a local gallery. Her work reminded me of Laurie Anderson's slightly, and there were other touches in the dialogue here and there that made me think of Anderson. I wonder if July is a fan? In her day job Christine runs a taxi service for elderly people, ferrying Michael to meet his new love, Ellen, who is very ill in a care home.
This is quite a brave film. Miranda July tackles difficult issues like paedophilia, childrens' curiosity about sex, loneliness, hope and longing, but it isn't at all a depressing film. She treats the feelings of very young and very old with dignity and respect, and without patronising them, which is actually quite unusual. The whole cast is terrific, but the children in particular are wonderful. I've found it hard to get six-year old Robby's adorably solemn expression out of my mind, and Sylvie's careful ironing of the towels to go in her trousseau (really, who irons towels?) and description of how she would chat to her daughter while preparing lunch was heartbreaking.
The film captures the self-possession and self-containment of children very well, along with their contradictory and simultaneous yearning to grow up and escape the boundaries their parents impose on them and their fear of this happening. We see this particularly in the two adolescent girls, Rebecca and Heather, who are vicious and vulnerable: full of bravado one minute and full of fear about everything the next.
There was a scene with Peter and Robby working on the computer that particularly touched me, in which Peter was constructing an ASCII art image of a tiger (old skool geekery!), with Robby patiently reading out the characters for him. Both boys were so absorbed by their task, both completely self-contained and resolutely excluding their dad, knowing it was hurting him, but enjoying having that power.
I also thought that the dialogue was quirky and naturalistic, and captured how children express themselves particularly well. For example, there's a scene where little Sylvie is choosing a food blender, and asks the assistant about whether she thinks it will be a 'classic' or not (because it obviously has to last until Sylvie gets married). The assistant, a bit unsettled and irritated by Sylvie's confidence and self-possession makes a joke about everything being computerised in the future.
Sylvie (confidently): Soup won't be computerised. Housewares Saleswoman: Why's that? Sylvie (with an air of explaining the obvious to an idiot): It's a liquid.
You can't argue with that.
I also loved Robby's patient explanation of the 'chore wheel', which could come right out of a Laurie Anderson lyric:
Robby: Mom says we have a chore wheel. Richard Swersey: What? Peter Swersey: Nothing. Robby: A chore wheel. You put chores on it and then you can spin it. There's this metal thing and it helps it to spin. It's spinning from the metal.
I've focussed on the children because I've rarely seen such great acting from child actors, but the adults were pretty good too. Richard made me think of Zonker Harris from Doonesbury for some reason (but scared rather than chilled-out), and Miranda July herself put in a very subtle performance as Christine. It's a very interesting film, though one that seems to polarise opinion.