Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, The New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, Extended Cut.
CANNES 2012: Michel Gondry’s THE WE AND THE I
CANNES 2012: Michel Gondry's THE WE AND THE I
Michel Gondry brazenly announces the difference between The We and the I and most other contemporary coming of age movies and/or teen sex comedies with a strategically planted poster for an imaginary film called Megalomania (which happens to be a project Gondry is developing with his son Paul). Contemporary filmmakers like Todd Phillips (Project X) and Josh Trank (Chronicle) ostensibly examine their young protagonists' narcissism, but in The We and the I, Gondry is more ostentatious than they are, and also more genuinely concerned with indulging and then deflating his teens' egos.
Gondry's film follows a group of high schoolers on the last day of school. The long ride home on the fictional Bx66 bus gives the film's protagonists' ample time to goof off, hurt each others' feelings, and realize that they're all on the verge of drifting apart from each other and becoming new people. So The We and the I starts with a lot of crude jokes/dises about fat girls, gawky guys, and tiny penises, and it ends with John-Hughes-by-way-of-Spike Lee-style declamatory speeches. Gondry and his two co-writers don't quite tack on The We and the I's ending; they prove, rather than just claim, that they're down with this unruly Breakfast Club 2.0.
The We and the I's plot largely concerns the roundabout way various disparate high school cliques interact with each other. For example, Michael and Theresa (Michael Brodie and Theresa L. Rivera, two stand-out amateur performers), a pair of estranged ex-lovers, serve as the film's emotional anchors. But Michael's group of bullies also teases the hot girl and her dorky best friend, who in turn razz the arty nerd, whose nose is buried in his sketchpad, who also was picked on earlier by Michael and his friends. The film's plot is an amorphous series of testosterone and estrogen-fueled encounters spurred on by maniacally catty urges that are, thankfully, not all redeemed at the film's eleventh hour.
Gondry makes a point of showing that some truths about the unwitting cruelty resulting from being young and horny are universal. While YouTube and texting has changed the way The We and the I's teens tease each other, these kids also still play Truth-or-Dare and agonize over who to invite to their Sweet Sixteen parties. When Gondry and co. launch their characters into "The Chaos," the film's second of three narrative chapters, which is best characterized as a haze of undiluted teen Drama, Gondry's kids are irredeemably mean to each other—sometimes to great comic affect, as when a curvy girl is called "two pounds of bologna in a one pound bag."
But these characters' more bratty, sadistic actions also often have immediate consequences. The broad beats of The We and the I's narrative may be arranged on a series of criss-crossing schematic laundry lines, but the film is at its best when characters' actions create a chain reaction. Once Gondry's characters bluntly tell us what the stakes of the film's drama are, the movie loses potency. But at the height of its frenzy, Gondry's latest movie buzzes with hormones and posturing and All That Angst.