The We and the I Reviews
This isn't reality TV. It's writing and filmmaking and while you won't get stellar acting across the board from these non-professionals, all acting under their own names, some of them are quite good and are able to bring the text to life. It's almost like Speed meets My Dinner with Andre, if that makes sense - you're stuck on this bus for the long haul, and it'll be suspenseful... there will also be a lot of talk, and buffoonery, and, really, genuine emotion at this turning point of the end of a school year with some betrayals and bewilderment going around.
And while the first two-thirds are mostly a lot of fun, the final third, when the bus crowd thins out, becomes even more interesting than it was before when it focuses on Michael and Teresa, and another kid who we haven't seen much of (wrapped up in a comic-book and in headphones), and that scene in particular is great for these guys having (or thinking they have) grown up just on this bus ride alone. It's a heart-to-heart scene that shows after all of the bluster and big talk from the group-in-the-back, being down to earth is the tough part and what makes kids into the outcasts and bullies and bystanders and so on.
It's sometimes rambling, sometimes unfocused, but that too is part of the charm. And, in a sense, this becomes Gondry's most surprising feature in the sense that he isn't with star-power team-ups (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Gael Garcia Bernal, Seth Rogen, etc), or with his large grab-bag of surreal/magic-fiction camera and mis-en-scene tricks. Not to say there aren't exceptions - at one point, if I'm not mistaken, Jesus comes on to the bus to break up what could be an escalation-cum-fight on the bus - but it's really just a bunch of slices of life strung together, maybe not too unlike Spike Lee's Get on the Bus but without the baggage of the Million-Man-March message. What is it like to be a teenager, not just in the Bronx but anywhere? Teenagers especially would do well to watch a movie like this, which paints a more captivating and, for me at least, entertaining portrait of life than an MTV show could do. It doesn't stop for a chance to be funny, sometimes with ridiculous results, but its got a big heart and that's what is always wonderful about this director.
But these kids did it. They have a few rough edges as actors, but they always feel deeply comfortable in front of the camera, achieving a natural, improvisatory feel that really pulls off the realism of the stories. I love a good ensemble cast (death to the protagonist!), and this one is used really effectively. Most characters play into several of the ongoing story arcs, acting as side characters in each others' dramas. Each storyline features a few main characters but also enriches several others, showing how sensitive our personality and identity are to the social and situational contexts we find ourselves in.
The themes are familiar and universal - bullying, romance, sexuality, social status, etc. - but the vibrant blend of cultures embodied in these uniquely modern kids has a gritty vitality that feels very comfortable in its own skin (again the natural acting is key) and is super fun to experience vicariously. While a genius or just hard-working group of teens could easily master the technical challenges of acting and filming a work like this, it beggars belief that they could write such subtle and mature handlings of these themes (and according to the credits, they didn't, but I actually find that even harder to believe). Each arc is content to be the human story, belying interpretation, even perhaps scorning the idea that these kids' lives should fit into narratives and categories that don't belong to them. The best arcs all concern a girl named Teresa, who stands at a very unusual intersection of status, sexual identity, and consent issues - all of which the movie is confident enough to simply put out there without offering any commentary.
Far more so even then important and revolutionary representational works like Orange is the New Black, or the science fiction of Octavia Butler, The We and The I exemplifies the incredible value perspectives outside the white community, or even the cultural establishment, have in enriching art. The debate about cultural appropriation is an intellectual morass that invites overeager judgmentalism that greases the wheels to easy, pat answers. But this film is maybe the best modern example of a beautiful, fruitful, appropriate exchange and collaboration. To honor and give voice to the perspective of your source community is not just respectful (and I'm certainly not convinced it's a moral obligation): it makes a much classier, richer product. The cynic in me says that what happened here can't be replicated, but whether it can happen or not, more people should be trying to make films like The We and The I.
Dramen spielen sich hier ab, und obwohl ich die wahren Lebensumstände von Afro-Amerikanern in den Großstädten der USA selbst nur aus den Medien kenne, erscheint mir das was Gondry zeigt, als etwas doch recht authentisches.
Weder verteufelt noch verklärt, fällt sein Urteil über diese Teenager aus. Wie in allen Anhäufungen von Menschen, finden sich die coolen Kiddies, Loser, Schüchterne, Charismatische, Bullies - nette wie unfreundliche Jugendliche in diesem Bus, und wer der persönliche Favorit unter diesen unterschiedlichen, und doch herzigen Charakteren ist, bleibt dem Zuseher überlassen.
Interessante Charaktere, die jedoch anonym genug bleiben um als Modelle für weit größere, gesellschaftliche und politische Probleme stehen. Der Konflikt im Kleinen wird hier sinnbildlich für das große Ganze. Eine andere Frage ist, ob Gondry das überhaupt so will.
Als Fan davon, was Gondry sonst so macht, war ich jedoch ein klein wenig enttäuscht. Bis auf einige Details bleiben seine rege Fantasie und sein Händchen für surreale, visuelle Geniestreiche ungenützt. The We and the I" ist definitiv kein The Science of Sleep" und so sehr der Film sich auch bemüht eine kleine Charakterstudie zu bleiben, so bitter ist genau diese Entscheidung Gondrys.