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Screens Sparks that fly but don't ignite

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Miranda July's debut is electric but the switches don't all connect

When 14-year-old Peter Swersey (Thompson) prints out the abstract geometrical patterns he has made with his computer, he offers an interpretation to his 6-year-old brother, Robby (Ratcliff): "This is you and me and everyone we know." In her quirky first feature, writer and director Miranda July assembles a sorry ensemble of lonely, whimsical characters who - fortunately - do not quite represent me or everyone I know. But Me and You and Everyone We Know is notable for what it knows about sexual desperation in contemporary Los Angeles and for making our acquaintance with a talented new filmmaker.

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Ah, look at all the lonely people: In Me and You and Everyone We Know, shoe salesman Richard Swersey and cab driver Christine Jesperson wear the faces they keep in a jar by the door.

In the opening, pre-credit sequence, frazzled shoe salesman Richard Swersey (Hawkes), splitting with his wife, struggles to connect with their two sons. Peter and Robby watch impassively through the window as their father douses his hand with fluid and then sets it afire. Later, when a stranger asks about the bandages that swathe his hand, Richard explains, "I tried to save my life but it didn't work." The stranger, played by July, is Christine Jesperson, an aspiring video artist who drives a cab for elderly passengers. The numerous strategies employed by July's people to overcome isolation rarely work, but several of her own inventions are combustible enough to save her film from larks that fail to fly.

A fragile plastic bag containing a goldfish perches precariously on the roof of a car driving down the freeway. The snooty curator of an art gallery insists that a supplicant mail her work rather than hand it to her then and there. Two teenaged girls audition their developing sexual skills with young Peter before offering them to a grownup in the neighborhood. A student is assigned to brandish a fake grenade in order to trigger a school terrorism drill. Playing on the internet, young Robby excites a horny stranger through descriptions of kinky, excremental sex.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Writ. & dir. Miranda July; feat. July, John Hawkes, Miles Thompson, Brandon Ratcliff (R)
"E-mail wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AIDS," insists one character, who is convinced that fear of direct contact instigated the development of electronic communications. In a film about all the lonely people, it is a provocative conceit, as inspired as some of the loony theories mouthed by the monomaniacs in Richard Linklater's Slacker. But July's clever little dabs do not quite add up to a satisfying canvas. At the hub of her decentered universe is Christine's pursuit of Richard, a scruffy bungler with little to commend him except for his observation, while fitting her for a shoe, that Christine possesses an unusual ankle. Instead of dialogue, July provides her characters with orations, and, though endearing in adorable, wide-eyed Robby, autistic speech is hard to listen to for an entire film. She offers a rare understanding of girls and women, but it is hard to believe that 14-year-old Peter would really be eager to play with a young neighbor's imaginary trousseau. "I am prepared for amazing things to happen," proclaims Richard. Perhaps they will, in July's next film.


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