An inspired debut feature by acclaimed performance artist Miranda July, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" brings a fresh perspective to age-old human dilemmas: the longing of children to become adults, the yearning of adults to recapture the innocence of youth, and the difficulty of finding true love at age 7 or 70.

An inspired debut feature by acclaimed performance artist Miranda July, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” brings a fresh perspective to age-old human dilemmas: the longing of children to become adults, the yearning of adults to recapture the innocence of youth, and the difficulty of finding true love at age 7 or 70. Bolstered by July’s own enchanting performance in a central role, this recipient of Sundance’s Special Jury Prize for Originality should enjoy warm reviews and solid art-house biz, though pic’s offbeat vibe and comic depiction of underage sexuality may prove a harder sell to mainstream auds.

There are few moviegoing pleasures more satisfying than discovering a film that responds to the world around it in specific and unfamiliar ways. And while today’s independent film landscape offers no shortage of pics affecting such idiosyncratic temperaments, “Me and You…” immediately stands apart thanks to the effortlessness and integrity of July’s quirky vision.

Her vision can be seen immediately: Film opens with an act of lovelorn desperation as shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes) responds to the news that his wife is leaving him by setting his own hand on fire. In short, July isn’t out to win a fan club or a three-picture deal, but rather to speak about love and loss and loneliness in her own private storytelling language. The result is one of those rare indie films that doesn’t seem the least bit opportunistic — just the pure, unadulterated expression of an American artist’s highly original personality.

Suggesting a downsized version of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling multi-character narratives, “Me and You…” traces an assortment of neighbors whose lives parallel and occasionally intersect in an unidentified American suburb.

Video artist Christine (July) makes ends meet as a taxi driver for the elderly while unsuccessfully trying to get her work exhibited in a cynical, unwelcoming art world. Accompanying one of her regular clients on a shoe-purchasing expedition, Christine begins a reluctant courtship with the literally and figuratively burned Richard, who believes the right pair of shoes can change a person’s life, but who hasn’t quite figured out how to be a responsible father to his two young sons.

Situated for hours in front of that electronic babysitter known as the home computer, 7-year-old Robby (scene-stealing Brandon Ratcliff) enters into an Internet flirtation with a mysterious older woman, seducing her with the romantic promise: “You poop into my butthole, I poop into your butthole, back and forth forever.” Meanwhile, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) finds himself on the receiving end of a challenge between two precocious female classmates who wish to know which one of them gives a better blow job.

If that all risks making “Me and You…” sound puerile or even irresponsible, then it is all the more to July’s credit that she embellishes such moments with a whimsy and melancholia that makes them seem less about sex than about making meaningful connections with other human beings. And July’s film may possess the keenest sense of any film since Michael Almereyda’s unreleased “Happy Here and Now” of just how difficult such connections have become in an age where technology has supposedly brought people closer together.

Occasionally, July overstates her case, as in a subplot involving a self-absorbed gallery owner and an art-world wunderkind who’s actually a pompous phony. Those moments feel deliberately played for satirical laughs and are the only ones where July seems to be holding herself above her characters rather than commuting with them. Most of the time, though, “Me and You…” expresses a rare sensitivity and optimism, with July showing less interest in the cosmic coincidences that unite her characters than in capturing ineffable moments of human experience.

Holding everything tightly together is July’s winning screen presence — with her mop of curly hair and wide, absorbent eyes, she seems a human antenna finely tuned in to all manner of sensory stimuli. “Deadwood” star Hawkes fills Richard with an ingrown sadness. And the cast of child actors is uniformly marvelous, not least of all Carlie Westerman as a 10-year-old with a hope chest full of kitchen appliances she hopes to someday share with her husband and kids — a perfect Stepford wife in training.

Tech package is solid by pic’s modest standards, with Chuy Chavez’s lensing well capturing the monotonous patterns of modern suburbia.

Me And You And Everyone We Know

Production

An IFC Films release of an IFC Prods. and Filmfour presentation of a Gina Kwon production. Produced by Kwon. Executive producers, Jonathan Sehring, Carolyn Kaplan, Holly Becker, Peter Carlton. Directed, written by Miranda July.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Chuy Chavez; editor, Andrew Dickler; music, Mike Andrews; production designer, Aran Mann; art director, John Wyatt; set decorator, Bryan Venegas; costume designer, Christie Wittenborn; sound (Dolby Digital), Yehuda Maayan; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Meg Taylor; assistant director, Amy Armstrong; casting, Meg Morman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Richard - John Hawkes Christine - Miranda July Peter - Miles Thompson Robby - Brandon Ratcliff Sylvie - Carlie Westerman Heather - Natasha Slayton Rebecca - Najarra Townsend
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