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In "The We and the I," a group of high school students take the bus home on the last day of school in the Bronx. So, while the movie nails the experience of being trapped on a bus full of rambunctious teenagers, writer-director Michel Gondry is not able to separate any of the storylines well enough for any of them to stand on their own. Nor does he really have much idea how traffic really and slowly works in New York City. As the movie takes place apparently in real time, with such unusually little traffic with the exception of an unrelated accident, it would not have been surprising if the passengers had ended up halfway to New Haven by the conclusion which might have made for an intriguing finale.
Michel Gondry's film offers an interesting idea. A group of teenagers who "workshopped" the idea of playing variations of themselves on a bus ride on the last day of school thru the Bronx. It has its share of moments. Sometimes funny, sometimes a bit sad and aching to give voice to young adults who are often denied the opportunity. But something about it never fully comes together. It sort of feels like Gondry is so focused on getting past the stereotyping that it ends up working in opposition to that core goal.
It is the last day of high school in the Bronx and the students are ready for the summer. After the long-awaited ringing of the bell, teens from different cliques board the public bus and director Michel Gondry observes with his camera. If it were not for the more whimsical scenes inserted between casual conversations, one could not be blamed for mistaking the picture for a documentary because its flow and texture are so organic.
Casting inexperienced actors who are actually teenagers benefits the picture immensely. I enjoyed that it was a challenge for me to figure out whether most of the dialogue is ad libbed. By the end, I remained unsure. Not only do the words and the phrasings sound incredibly authentic, the performers are able to deliver the right attitude that comes with what they are saying and feeling. Spending time with them made me feel like I was back in high school.
Observing the characters closely, one gets the impression that so many things are going on inside their heads but many of them only know how to communicate a certain way. Take Michael (Michael Brodie) and his goofy friends as an example. They create so much commotion on the back of the bus. They are mean to each other, to their peers who happen to be taking the same bus, and even toward complete strangers. Later, as their numbers dwindle down and the energy is lower, we have a more accurate way of gauging the remaining teens' maturity levels.
Or maybe we do not. After all, we have only known them for about two hours. There is a key exchange between Michael and Alex (Alex Raul Barrios), the latter not at all impressed with the idea that Michael has only decided to speak to him on the very last day of school. To us, Michael's sensitive side is almost endearing but to Alex it is simply a charade-and will not have any of it. That alternative perspective is injected with such precision, it is a reminder to us that although we do not spend that much time with each teenager, we get a sense that they have real thoughts and lives outside of that bus.
The picture lacks the necessary focus in order for it to become a fully enveloping experience. There are moments when it gets distracted by flashbacks, flash-forwards, fantasy, and possibilities. While the aforementioned techniques add to the humor somewhat, it comes off trying too hard at times, a contrivance. In a film like this, misplaced quirks are magnified because its aim is to deliver a certain level of realism.
Written by Michel Gondry, Jeffrey Grimshaw, and Paul Proch, "The We and the I" has its limitations but it is nonetheless a beautiful movie. It annoyed me sometimes that just when a character starts to get really interesting, he or she gets off the bus. At the same time, life is like that sometimes. You meet people on your journey and you start to believe that you are in it together until you are not. Everyone has his own destination.
Not the greatest film in the world but i made it through to the end.
I thought Adrian Brodie was in this movie for some reason but it was Michael Brodie. Pretty good movie either way.
That this movie exists at all is something of a miracle. It's an oxymoron: a great movie by and about high schoolers. Apparently Michel Gondry worked with these kids for three years to write and film this movie, and the effort certainly shows. But Gondry's influence is only really apparent in the creative and characteristic cinematography choices. The themes, storylines, and character arcs are all too fresh and real to come from an experienced art filmmaker. Getting genuinely representational stories from inner-city multiracial youth has to be something of a holy grail for activist filmmakers. The problem is that no high schoolers anywhere could actually make a film this good.
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.
The minute-to-minute meat of this slice-of-city-life is thick soupy rich. One of the best teen movies in a long time and among Gondry's best also.
Where did this film go? Was it talked about at all? I found it to be a spectacular experience, both progressive and traditional (his imaginative creations of dreamlike scenes a la Georges Melies) for Gondry, and full of performances so natural I was in disbelief that it wasn't a documentary. With drama that unfolds in clear-cut Cassavetes-style and a cast of colorful characters adored by their creator as the characters of Dazed and Confused were by theirs, "The We and I" is an engaging and entertaining film.
Damn great little movie. Sad it didn't receive much press or attention last year. Might be his best film, actually. Can't wait to really fully review it for Smug Film