The We and the I Reviews
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.