Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: The We and the I

The We and the I
Directed by: Michel Gondry.
Written by: Michel Gondry & Jeffrey Grimshaw & Paul Proch.
Starring: Michael Brodie (Michael), Teresa Lynn (Teresa), Raymond Delgado (Little Raymond), Jonathan Ortiz (Jonathan), Jonathan Scott Worrell (Big T), Alex Raul Barrios (Alex), Laidychen Carrasco (Laidychen), Meghan Murphy (Niomi), Chenkon Carrasco (Chen), Jacob Carrasco (Jacobchen), Konchen Carrasco (Kon), Raymond Rios (Big Raymond), Kenneth Quinones (Kenny), Amanda Mercado (Amy), Manuel Rivera (Manuel), Jillian Rice (Jillian), Chantelle-Lisa Davis (Chantelle), Brandon Diaz (Brandon), Luis Figueroa (Luis), Marlene Perez (Marlene), Patricia Jade Persaud (Willowy Patricia), Carolina Noboa (Carolina), Esmeralda Herrera (Esmeralda), Justin McMillan (Sam), Elijah Canada (Elijah), Shade Antanique Coleman Blanch (Shade), Marie Raphael (Marie), Alexis Davila (Alexis), Kendrick Martinez (Kendrick), Patricia Marie Collazo (Patricia), Evonny Escoto (Evonny), Nicole Janine Rivera (Nicole), Jazmine Rivera (Jazmine), Darius D. Davis (Darius), Omar Mualimmak (Omar), Hector Maldonado (Hector), Mia Lobo (Bus Driver).

As far as burdens go, Michel Gondry is stuck with a pretty great one. In 2004, he directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the very best films of the 21st Century – a film that seems to get better, deeper, funnier and more inventive each time I watch it. In the nine years since, he hasn’t approached that level of brilliance. True, the screenwriter of the film Charlie Kaufman deserves a lot deal of credit for the greatness of that movie (and he know directs his own screenplays), and Gondry has gone onto direct some good films since – Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005), The Science of Sleep (2006), Be Kind Rewind (2008) and my personal favorite of his post Sunshine work – his segment of Tokyo! (2008) – about a young girl who changes into a chair. Perhaps because his new film, The We and the I, doesn’t try to be as off the wall strange as his other films, it is probably his best film since Eternal Sunshine. No, it’s still not in the same league – but then few films are.

The film takes place on the absurdly long bus ride home through New York City for a group of high school students on the last day before summer vacation. Gondry cast real students from the area in Brooklyn he was filming in, and while none of them are great actors, they are wonderful at playing, what we expect, are exaggerated versions of themselves. When the movie simply sits back and allows them to be that, it works wonderfully – it works less so when it tries to impose some dramatics on the proceedings.

Anyone who takes public transportation will tell you just how accurate the movie is. While I don’t live in New York, I do work in Toronto, and getting on the subway some days, and finding the car full of teenagers can fill me with dread. One or two of them are fine – they typically will then just sit or stand quietly – but when a group comes, they can be loud, obnoxious, profane and inconsiderate to all those around them. It’s no wonder that shortly after the teenagers pile onto the bus in The We and the I, that most of the adults file out – presumably to wait for another bus – one not filled with teenagers.

Gondry flashes around from one group to the next – the losers, the popular kids, the group of bullies in the back, the girl obsessing about her sweet sixteen, the ones who just want to be left alone, and the ones trying desperately to fit in. They are all recognizable types, and yet they feel organic and real.

And that’s what I liked about The We and the I – that it all felt so natural to me. True, I think Gondry tries a little too hard near the end of the film – trying to put a happy face on it, and teach the teens a lesson at the same time. And he drives the point home – the point made by the title – that for teenagers, perhaps more than anyone else, they really are two people – the person they are when they are by themselves, and the person they are when they are surrounded by their friends. The character who embodies this is Michael (Michael Brodie), who doesn’t have a “real” moment until all his friends are gone, and he lets his guard down – confesses some true feelings, and makes a connection with a student he has ignored all year.

Overall, some clumsy dramatics aside – not to mention why Gondry felt the need to use the songs of Young MC – older than all of the kids on the bus – as the soundtrack to the film (not that I’m complaining – it’s been while since I heard Young MC), The We and the I is an honest exploration of modern teenagers. By the time the end of the movie came, I felt I got to know these teens – I didn’t like them all – but they were all real people to me. I still don’t want to be on a subway car with a bunch of loud, obnoxious teenagers, but I may look at them slightly differently next time.

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