I’ve been a fan of Miranda July for some time now: I have heard her CDs, and seen several of her multimedia performances. Her work always (what is the best way to say this?) obsesses me, but in a mild way: her oblique stories/comments/pictures and words/impersonations draw me in and make me want to figure out more, since they seem meaningful and not merely nonsensical, and since they continually imply depths that they resolutely refuse to articulate. July’s work is very “postmodern”, in that it is (in a sense) all about surfaces; but some of the surfaces are folded and dark and inaccessible, which makes me want to unfold them somehow, but I can’t. It is hard to describe them more specifically than this: I’d say that everything July does is affectively charged (with a certain degree of pain and awkwardness “behind” what seems “quirky” and “cute”), but (as my use of quotation marks indicates) it is impossible to pin down just what the affects are. Defensiveness? disappointment? embarrassment? shyness? an oxymoronically low-key hysteria? disillusionment? rejection? mild satisfaction?
July’s new film, her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is (as reviews and interviews have suggested) more “accessible” than her earlier work in other media, but this doesn’t mean that it waters down or compromises any of the qualities of her previous work. In genre terms, Me and You is a romantic comedy; but it’s so continually surprising and original that the genre marker doesn’t really say very much. It’s a film about the tentative, fragile, and often mishandled and misunderstood connections between people: romantic connections, sexual connections, family connections, friendship connections. The ages of the characters range (literally) from 7 to 70, although the main characters (played by July herself and by John Hawkes, whom I didn’t know before but who is apparently best known for his role in the TV series “Deadwood,” which I still unfortunately haven’t seen) are single or divorced 30-somethings. The awkwardness with regards to sexuality of the under-the-age-of-consent characters is beautifully portrayed (actually I am surprised that, in these puritanical times, July hasn’t gotten more flak for this), but so is the awkwardness, when it comes to expressing feelings (or even recognizing feelings in oneself) of the adult characters. I really don’t know how to describe the changing moods of the film, from humor to despair, without negatives: it’s so off-kilter that its gloom and fatalism is never morbid or even sentimental; so wry and dry and deadpan that its fundamental sweetness often passes by barely perceived; it walks a line between outrageousness and silliness so deftly that it is never in the least bit transgressive (not even when the 7-year-old boy is exchanging fantasies about poop with another screen persona who turns out to be an uptight woman in her 40s, and not even when the subject of teenage fellatio comes up, as it does several times) — but not transgressive precisely because there is never anything the least bit normative in the film, hence nothing against which one could transgress.
Me and You and Everyone We Know also abounds with images that are lovely and ridiculous at the same time. I think of an almost-excrucating sequence involving a goldfish in a bag of water precariously perched on the roof of a car weaving through traffic; of a pair of pink shoes that comes up several times; of the 7-year-old using cut and paste to overcome the problem of his uncertain spelling as he writes in a chat room; of a bird on a branch at the start of the film that is transformed at the end to a hokey painting of a bird stuck in some bushes. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a film of small moments that are (again, how do I say this?) utterly everyday, and at the same time transformative — but only slightly, tentatively transformative. It’s appropriate, perhaps, that a film so beautifully undemonstrative and undeclarative should leave me tongue-tied as I endeavor to describe it.