Friday, March 08, 2013

Gondry’s The We and the I

Is there a more maddening way to get about the City than an MTA bus?  Seriously, how much is your time worth?  However, for many residents of The Bronx, it is the only way to get from point A to point B.  For a number of high school kids, this makes for a long day commuting after a long day of class.  Michel Gondry takes the audience onto the bus after the last day of the school year in The We and the I (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

For those living in suburbia, it is important to realize this is a city bus, not a school bus.  There are plenty of cranky senior citizens getting on and off, sometimes prematurely because they are understandably appalled by the behavior of the hellions in the back seat.  They rule the roost by virtue of reputation and their assertion of authority. 

Of course, regardless of cultural and socio-economic background, all high school archetypes are present and accounted for.  There is the princess, the less glamorous friend she takes under her wing, the rebel, the band geek, the cut-up (who is apparently having a bad day to judge from the videos passing from smart phone to smart phone), and the scandal-tinged girl.  While we can assume much about where they are coming from, Gondry has them interact in ways that are smart and sometimes surprising.

While The We has a deliberately off-the-cuff, improvisational feel, the action and dialogue come together in meaningful ways over the course of the bus ride.  There is in fact a screenplay, billed to Gondry, Jeffrey Grimshaw, and Paul Proch, which is always an encouraging sign.  This might be minimalist drama, but thankfully it is not mumblecore.  Gondry takes his cast someplace specific and they very definitely have something to say.

Raw but earnest, the young ensemble clearly identify with their roles (mostly playing their namesakes).  The way the interaction between alpha male Michael (Brodie) and the troubled torch-bearing Theresa (Lynn) evolves as the bus steadily empties out is particularly compelling.  Granted, it conveys a familiar dichotomy between the rotten behavior driven by peer pressure and the human sort of connections forged on a one-to-one basis.  Nonetheless, it is a message that still has value.

Thanks to Alex Disenhof’s fluid cinematography and the energy invested by cast and crew, The We never feels stagey, despite its confined setting.  It is a small film that eagerly grasps for social relevancy, but it well surpasses expectations with its verve and sincerity.  Recommended for audiences looking a John Hughes-ish film for the urban Facebook generation, The We and the I opens today (3/8) in New York, downtown at the IFC Center and uptown Mist Harlem Cinema.