Describing the plot of Michel Gondry’s ensemble comedy/drama The We and the I makes it sound like The Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused. A couple dozen-or-so New York high-school students crowd their bus on the last day of classes and over the course of a lengthy commute home fight, laugh, fall in love, fret about their future, focus on the now, and try to talk the driver into stopping for food. However, The We and the I has such a non-judgmental, unsentimental tone and is so free of narrative contrivance that it turns out to owe far less to that Gen X classic and Richard Linklater’s flawless evocation of the past than it does to Robert Altman at his best.
After a brilliant opening-title sequence featuring a small, old-school boom box that doubles as a working toy bus blasting Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” the action stays more or less inside the bus for the entire film. The camerawork, sound design, and editing all conspire to make us a fly-on-the-wall for the many conversations, relationships, and feuds going on throughout the vehicle. There really isn’t anyone you can call a main character, but the most memorable is a charismatic member of a clique of four bullies who, while supremely capable of hurling indignities on his classmates as compared to his closest buddies, turns out to have a conscience.
The lack of a strong narrative can lead to a dearth of vigilance on the part of the viewer; if there are characters you’re more intrigued by you’re likely to lose focus or get fidgety while spending time with others, and for the first hour the movie flirts with spinning off into quotidian pointlessness. However, deeper issues begin to surface, and as they do you find yourself drawn into this microcosm of teen life. You miss some of these kids when they reach their destination, and with little fuss Gondry allows us to perceive how the remaining configuration of riders alters not only the bigger group dynamic, but many of the smaller ones as well.
The amateur actors who populate the film, scouted by Gondry over an extensive period of time, may vary individually as charismatic performers, but they’ve been well taught in the art of ignoring the camera. They feel real, and at the same time this never feels like an exploitation of their lives. The We and the I sneaks up on you, playing on your memories of adolescent difficulties and good times without demonizing or romanticizing either, and then -- in a fantastic final conversation between the bully and one of his most dismissive victims -- you realize how well you know the kids you’ve just spent time with.
For a director who revels in deconstruction and flamboyant flights of fancy in his most well-known films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind), Gondry shows here he’s just as able to tackle naturalism, which may well have come from his continued dabbling in documentaries. If nothing else, The We and the I gives us the thrill of watching a talented filmmaker grow.
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- Released: 2012
- Review: Describing the plot of Michel Gondry’s ensemble comedy/drama The We and the I makes it sound like The Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused. A couple dozen-or-so New York high-school students crowd their bus on the last day of classes and over the course of… (more)