I'm relatively new to the luxury of Netflix. My sister got an account for the Xbox only a couple of months ago, but already I am well versed in the common internal struggles of the everyday Netflix streamer. For example, every time I boot it up to watch something whilst I eat, I see a delicious queue full of movies I've always intended to watch or documentaries that will surely enrich my brain. But at the same time, I am not looking for a serious mental commitment at that very moment, seeking what Dan Harmon calls the least objectionable option. A movie I've already watched, or something dumb and fun like Star Trek or god forbid episodes of Pawn Stars. More often than not, I give in to the demons of sloth, because as much as I should see Rashomon, they've got episodes of 30 Rock I can re-watch in less than half an hour.
But I make progress. The easiest way to get things done is to just shut the fuck up (in your head) and do it. So I pulled up Me And You And Everyone We Know, Miranda July's film that I've had pegged for at least a year. Miranda July is a likeable artist. She works in a variety of mediums but her stock-in-trade is the weird, whimsical and quirky circumstances of lonely crazy people.
"Crazy" is probably the wrong word entirely, since it's negative and dismissive, but it's the word that first comes to mind when you read or watch her characters. You think, "this girl is crazy" and that she has not been socialized to be normal and she is delusional and she is ridiculous but not dangerous. But the stories always delve deeper and there's a human moment or a pocket of intimacy that says, "No, no she has exactly the right kind of magical earnesty we should be unafraid to have." It is to July's credit that we can be led over our own reductive prejudices against weirdness to really understand and empathize with likable, inoffensive weirdos.
Although it's a beautiful, talented ensemble cast, the movie begins with and is primarily focused with the life of lonely and socially awkward video artist Christine Jesperson, played by July herself. Her art consists of pictures of lovers, which Christine films while doing corny voice overs while pointing at them. It occurs to you immediately that it isn't so much art as it is Christine's sad, lonely, romance fantasies.
But again, as we are led along her story and witness her constant awkward struggle, we come to a new understanding. It's the only way she knows how to deal with her uniquely, earnest way of living, it's a totally unselfconscious, unchecked and oblivious outpouring of emotion from a rare person. And then you think: If that's not art, then what is?
That's the central shape of the movies many subplots. You laugh at first, maybe out of incredulity, at the wonderful and embarrassing strangeness of these people. But then you feel that maybe this is just the most ideal form of living. A little twee, sure, but refreshing in its optimism.
Christine's central romance is the best case for this. A newly divorced shoe salesman named Richard, who set his hand on fire in front of his children in an impulsive moment of desperation (He thought it would light but not burn, as alcohol would. He accidentally used gasoline instead, but thought, "No, it's better this way") meets the aforementioned Christine. It's kind of a cliche, a kind of obnoxious indie fantasy thing, where two lonely, weird, young enough white people discover each other quirkiness and fall in love. But it's movies like this that remind us why that cliche was once powerful: when done well, with enough originality and earnesty, it is the equivalent of childlike innocence and cute cat pictures. The idea is that love between two crazy people is probably the purest kind of love there is. Which leads to another question: Isn't it fortunate that most everyone is crazy? We just work hard to suppress it.
I worry that people might have, or will, label this film as simply "pretentious," which is a criticism that I dislike more and more. It's a label that shames people for trying. While pretentiousness is a problem when the aim is out of the artist's reach, and it can be obnoxious and annoying, it's worth aiming high. Not everyone has to succeed, but I like to see people be fearless with their art anyway instead of tempering their vision by taking a claw hammer to it.
There's a lot to enjoy in this film. It's roughly 5 or 6 stories intertwined, and I've only really talked about the revelations and emotional journeys of one of them. The little 5 year old kid in it is an adorable god damn human being. Everyone is at once embarrassing, cringe-inducing, and wholly appealing. Wes Anderson movies wish they could achieve this level of whimsy and emotion without any of the smugness or ego.
I watched this movie after I read Miranda July's collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. It could be said that both works are very similar. The movie may just be a visual version of a collection of short stories, with a few attached threads for the sake of convenience. Both works are, after all, almost always about offbeat, lonely people and the ways that they express that quality. It might be raised that there isn't a whole lot of departure in July's art. But she does it so god damn well, in ways that no one else is doing, that I don't mind. There's a dearth of material like this, at least in my range of vision, and that might be because it's not for everyone.
Me And You And Everyone We Know feels like a satisfying bundle of honest laughter. After finishing the movie, I couldn't help but wish that we lived in a world that resembled the movie more closely, where people wore their complications outwardly, and that some kind of ridiculous potential magic existed in everyone's lives.