The We and the I (2012)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Michel Gondry, Jeff Grimshaw, and Paul Proch
It’s kinda unfair for me to call this his best film yet, because I haven’t seen every one of his films. Gondry is one of those directors where everyone knows his name, but few have seen more than a couple of his movies, and would be surprised to hear he’s made 10 in the last 13 years:
Human Nature (2001)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005)
The Science of Sleep (2006)
Be Kind Rewind (2008)
The Thorn in the Heart (2009)
The Green Hornet (2011)
The We and the I (2012)
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)
Mood Indigo (2013)
I’ve seen almost all of them, though. The only one I haven’t seen is The Thorn in the Heart, not counting the two I can’t see, since they haven’t, as of yet, had much of a release: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? and Mood Indigo.
All this to say, I’m at least more qualified than most to make this statement. Especially since I’ve even heard of this movie, which is an impressive feat in and of itself that sets me apart from everyone else on this planet.
Good lord did this thing get buried. I remember seeing the trailer for it online over a year ago, and thinking it looked good, and then I never heard about it again until a couple days ago when I stumbled upon it at my local video store in the ‘indie’ section. According to the internet, it’s been on DVD since September 2013.
I remember a similar radio silence happened with The Thorn in the Heart. Hell, to this day I don’t know a single soul who’s seen it, and maybe only a few who have heard of it. And his two new ones aren’t getting much attention either. It seems that nobody cares about Gondry’s movies unless they’ve got stars in them. You’d think the dude would have enough cred by this point to get some press just on the strength of his own name—what with being a household name and all—but alas, Hollywood is a fickle an arbitrary beast.
Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to give a fuck, and just keeps working.
The best way to describe this movie is as the third film in a NYC trilogy—Block Party and Be Kind Rewind being the first two installments. After all, it was while making Block Party that he came up with the idea for Be Kind Rewind, and while making Be Kind Rewind that he got the idea to work with inner city youth and help them make no-budget shorts. Through that project, he discovered a group of teens he particularly gelled with, and together they conceived of The We and the I, which they workshopped as a group for three years.
All the work they put in paid off—the finished product is solid. Each one of these kids gives a natural performance, and the dialogue and cadences are pitch-perfect. You really feel like you’re on a city bus for 103 minutes. Of course, how enjoyable or frustrating an experience that is for you depends on you. For me, it was nostalgic and warming—I rode the city bus to and from High School for four years, and even the downright mean stuff brought back a lot of fond memories. Someone else might just be grated by it all, and want to get off at the very next stop, whether or not it’s their stop or not. Whatever camp you fall into, you’ll definitely know if this is a movie for you within the first five minutes or so.
I was especially impressed with how many distinct arcs they were able to juggle. A lot of times what befalls ensemble pieces is that a couple characters are clearly the focus, and the rest are just scenery, or even blatantly superfluous. Here, everyone is the focus, they all gets equal attention, and you never really know who will become important later on, or even end up carrying the thesis on their shoulders.
Worth noting is that this film tackles the topical topic of bullying lightyears better than that crappy doc Bully did, and does so largely due to the fact that it doesn’t pigeonhole people as mere ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’. It understands that the vast majority of people are a combination of the two—dicking around with their friends in good fun, but sometimes going too far, either intentionally or unintentionally. Your favorite characters in this film, the people you’ll wanna hug the shit out of and befriend, may do inexcusably horrific things to each other over the course of this 103-minute bus ride, and you need to be okay with that. Those with difficulty relating to three-dimensional characters, steer clear.
The only bad thing I can say about this movie is that there are a few tiny parts in it that are annoying. Momentary stylistic flourishes that fall flat. Pauline Kael once said of DePalma’s Carrie that it’s perfect except for one randomly sped up part when two boys are trying on clothes, talking to each other in sped up voices. Similarly stupid choices occur in this movie, preventing me from giving it the full 5 out of 5. But, what would a movie about annoying kids on a bus be without at least a few parts that annoy me? It’d be naive of me to expect I’d leave the ride unscathed.
4 1/2 Codys out of 5.