A heartbreaker is born in Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” her bold and original debut as director, writer and star.
While writer July’s witty, sensitive dialogue and director July’s keen eye for nuance and detail are strong suits in this ensemble story of love and wishfulness, it’s actress July who brings it all home.
She’s bashful and brash, sad and sparkling, awkward and assured, an intricate mix of wallflower and minx who cements together an excellent cast of adults and a surprisingly provocative roster of child actors.
July, a performance artist who previously made several short films and videos, has assembled a marvelous lineup of fresh faces whose unfamiliarity lends an aching authenticity to the characters’ lives and pursuits (her best-known co-star is John Hawkes, who plays a lawman-turned-shopkeeper on the HBO Western “Deadwood”).
Eerily familiar for all its strange musings, “Me and You” is a simultaneously perceptive and outlandish portrait of what it means to be alone and lonely in the 21st century.
The film has drawn comparisons as something of a scaled-back variant of Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble epic “Magnolia.” “Me and You” does share that film’s San Fernando Valley settings and a situational plot structure that shifts about among a series of loosely connected people.
July plays a character close to home, performance artist Christine Jesperson, who creates weird little videos when she’s not on duty as an “Eldercab” driver shuttling old folks around town.
A trip to the mall introduces Christine to sadsack shoe salesman Richard Swersey (Hawkes), newly separated from his wife, with whom he juggles the raising of their forlorn teenage son Peter (Miles Thompson) and Peter’s 7-year-old brother Robby (Brandon Ratcliff).
Christine and Richard’s faltering steps toward romance and intimacy are at the center of the film, while July interweaves a string of captivating side stories.
Shaken by his parents’ breakup, Peter edges toward emotional and sexual adulthood himself, striking up an odd little domestic relationship with a neighbor girl (Carlie Westerman) who meticulously maintains a marital hope chest as a means of coping with her own broken-home upbringing.
Peter also passively submits to sexual experimentation by two teen gal pals (Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend) — the girls also playing Lolita temptresses to a co-worker of Richard’s.
With old-soul wisdom, young Robby proves a shrewd counselor for an online lonelyheart he counters in a chatroom, offering a bawdily hilarious metaphor for the oneness love is meant to bring.
The characters, from young children to senior citizens, seek companionship, solace, direction and tenderness in their own affectionately blundering ways. They speak with a charming everyday poetry, often ribald, always wily and insightful.
The action matches the dialogue, July crafting a sort of surreal mundaneness in which people try on socks as earrings and freeway motorists share communal horror over the plight of a goldfish whose water bag was carelessly left on a vehicle’s roof.
“Me and You” shared this year’s Cannes Film Festival prize for best movie by a first-time filmmaker. July also received a special award for originality for “Me and You” at last winter’s Sundance Film Festival.
The accolades are well-deserved. July is a singular talent who could be a scene-stealing performer in other people’s movies and hopefully will be able to cultivate her joyously eccentric vision in her own films.