The short version: Michel Gondry’s THE WE AND THE I is his best film since ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, and one of the most interesting films of the year.
Set almost entirely within the confines of a public bus in present-day Brooklyn, Gondry’s latest continues his seeming fascination with inner-city sociology, exploring the emotional truths of contemporary youth in brilliantly complex fashion. Scripted by the eccentric director himself (alongside collaborators Jeffrey Grimshaw and Paul Proch), the film is separated into multiple “parts” and lends itself more to the deliberately unstructured style of a neo-realist film than anything recognizable from the director’s previous catalog.
In spite of the faux-realist form, Gondry’s famously wild imagination still gets its moments to shine through; just not nearly as often or as intensely as in films like THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP or BE KIND REWIND. Then again, that’s to be expected when you’re directing a film about inner-city youths journeying home on the last day of school before summer vacation. Still, Gondry effectively utilizes contemporary technologies to expand his stylistic aesthetic, playing with both the form and style of new media technologies. For every actual shot and reference to a viral or smartphone-shot video, there is a stylistic recreation of the aesthetic within the actual world of the film: frame rate drops, aspect ratio shifts and low-and-high quality contrasts are commonplace. For the first time in a long time, Gondry’s charming style enhances the themes of the film, rather than simply exist in his admittedly delightful vacuum.
The film’s script is flawless, exploring with incredible dexterity the shifting relationships and arcs of the characters. What’s most impressive is Gondry’s incredible sense of place: there is never a moment where you don’t understand when and where each of the kids are, in spite of the massive number of characters. No one is ever forgotten. Each character gets their moment to shine, and none are ever left long enough for you to forget about them. The sheer balancing act of characters – all of you whom you amazingly care for, in spite of their individually abrasive quirks – might be the most impressive aspect of the entire film; a disaster waiting to happen, which instead transforms itself into something perfect that feels effortless.
But it’s the kids who truly steal the show. Every one of them is wonderfully cast, and the naturalistic – possibly and probably improvised – dialogue is far from the easiest material to handle for such young actors, but the performances are spectacular across the board. Even the bullies and the kids you want to hate are nuanced and human, and the young actors lend each a sense of earnestness and genuineness that transcends the already-perfect script. Not one of them ever takes a misstep, and their banter makes the 103-minute runtime fly by. I would gladly watch these kids verbally duke it out for hours longer.
Which brings us to another incredible aspect of the film: its complete lack of judgment. The film never over-dramatizes its characters beyond the realm appropriate for pubescent kids, and even when they’re doing terrible things, Gondry never, ever paints anybody in a positive or negative light; these kids simply are who they are, and the audience get to bear unfiltered witness to their virtues and vices.
As kids slowly drop off the bus, never to be seen again, and the tone becomes increasingly somber, the laughs and humanity are never removed. It makes for a seriously refreshing and honest portrayal of contemporary youth that has been sorely lacking from this cynical generation. There is more heart in this film (as with all Gondry films) than in most of what I’ve seen all year combined, and I’m thankful for that. A must-see.