Last updated: August 18, 2005 1:43 pm

Unlikely innocence and a delightful sadness

It is completely unfair to make a film such as Me and You and Everyone We Know. Hollywood and the high-budget tripe industry toil night and day to produce a Bewitched or an Unleashed: the first a big-screen sitcom stuffed with whimsy and Nicole Kidman, the second a barking-mad action thriller starring Jet Li as a human attack dog. Then the video-artist-turned-filmmaker, Miranda July, strolls in, picks up a prize or two (Sundance, Cannes) and world-releases her no-frills, no-stars, almost no-budget movie about absolutely nothing.

If this film were any more enchanting, it would have to be quarantined. Moguls whose movies are powerless to enchant, even to charm, would not want their impotence derided by its insouciance. They would not want to know that a bunch of gnomic subplots set in suburban Los Angeles – about, mainly, a shy aspiring artist (July) flirting with a woebegone single-father shoe salesman (John Hawkes), and that father’s mischievously web-surfing young sons, for the younger of whom an online chat leads to a surreal last-scene park rendezvous, while the elder agrees to some compare-and-
contrast oral sex with two local fast girls – could be so much more fun, and so incandescent in its unlikely innocence, than four hours of wild slapstick and digitised mayhem with the combined starriness of Kidman, Li, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins.

Me and You and Everyone We Know is about connecting and not connecting. It is about the way we pass each other in a street or the way we circum-
navigate a shop assessing (even unconsciously) the people as well as the products. It is about the way we want adventure yet simultaneously do not, and the way, when someone pushes the envelope of a first, shy social contact, he or she can usually find a letter inside saying “Yes! Open me up! Read me! Please!”

These living tableaux make no apparent attempt to interrelate. You turn a page in July’s picture-book and you are in a new story, even with the unstressed daisy-chain continuity of characters. Yet with its sense of the childlike in much sexual and social exploration, and the simultaneous darkness in some forms of apparent innocence – such as the brilliant scene where July unwittingly “crosses the line” with Hawkes by climbing into his car (Fortress Male Impregnability!) – this film is everything that Todd Solondz’s Palindromes should have been and wasn’t. It is a rightful heir to Solondz’s Happiness, Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost Story or Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, those growing-up movies that prove there is a subtly beating pulse of wit, sadness, compassion and gentle satire even in the land of Bush and Bruckheimer.

Bewitched is an old TV sitcom shaken into frightened life, like a coma victim paid a surprise visit by Santa Claus and his shock troops. To say I hated every minute would be an exaggeration. There was one minute I liked. It was where Will Ferrell, as the movie actor hired to star in a new series of Bewitched (a remake within the film’s remake, if you get the Pirandellian idea), is “bewitched” by the real witch Nicole Kidman, hired to co-star, and declaims a simple line about a dog in a half-dozen crazed stentorian variants from Shakespearean to Cheech and Chong
Mexican.

But you can see this scene in the trailer. The rest is arch enough to stand at the top of the Champs-Elysées. The film’s winsome, in-jokey desire to be a nostalgist’s best friend – which will surely leave anyone not familiar with this 1960s sitcom cold or confounded – is combined with performances from stars who seem each to be acting on a different planet.

Kidman does adorable dizziness accessorised with Monroe moues and whispers. Ferrell does a virtual stand-up comedy set from Saturday Night Live. Shirley MacLaine, as Ferrell’s mother-in-law, plays to the gallery. Michael Caine as Kidman’s dad plays to the floorboards. He looks uniquely miserable, as if he has lost the key to his agent’s office and has to find it before he can go in and batter him to death. The writer-director, Nora Ephron, once scripted When Harry Met Sally. If you originated that, whatever are you doing resuscitating 40-year-old TV shows?

In Shane Carruth’s Primer, two films I want to see are attached to two films I don’t want to see, namely each other. Let me explain. I love the overlapping speech delivery, a kind of Altmanesque speed-dialoguing ideally suited – you would think – to a tale of four yuppies hatching a spare-time science project in a garage. (It is a time machine built from old bits of cars and fridges.) And I love the sci-fi – or sci-fact – plot itself, which argues that tinkering with mass and gravity can manipulate time and also provide living copies of the time-traveller.

An arthouse thriller in the Pi and Memento mould, Carruth’s Sundance-prizewinning debut has a lovely hubris-nemesis trajectory. Soon after the two project leaders (Carruth himself and David Sullivan) have learnt to exploit the stock-trading possibilities of cheating time, their lives start to unwind in paranoia, schizophrenia and body-clock breakdown. Says Carruth one morning: “Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since late this afternoon.”

Both the idea and the panache are promising. But more and more, as 77 minutes unspool, wit becomes blanketed in fog. Swirled about by science-babble, elliptical narration and chronometric confusion, the audience is soon standing on a parallel time-escalator thinking: “Does anyone get this? I haven’t understood a thing since early last reel.” The pace becomes so precipitate as the content becomes denser that we end in a state of numbed aphasia. I would love to see Primer remade as two separate but companion movies. One would eliminate the plot and just revel in the fast-talk kibitzing. The other would spell out the (pseudo) science and plot intricacies very slowly for medium-dimwitted folk such as you and me.

Unleashed is the filmic equivalent of a joke-shop product. It explodes in your face and, when you dare it to explode again, it does. Over and over. Jet Li, hitherto modern cinema’s low-calibre answer to Bruce Lee, has his best role yet as the orphan raised as an attack animal by gangster Bob Hoskins. Hoskins has only to uncollar him to release violence undreamt-of since – well, since the last martial arts movie for the punch-drunk kung-fu set.

Soon, as if the writer, Luc Besson, and the director, Louis Leterrier, needed a quieter second theme for their chop-socky sonata, blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman and his daughter wander into the story offering redemption by art and music. Surely this is a straight steal from James Toback’s Fingers, also newly re-experienceable in the French remake De Battre Mon Coeur S’Est Arrêté. Are we in for a season of mayhem mixed with concert music? Is it a mirror of our times? Does it say something about the atavistic chaos of life beneath the veneer of fastidious civilisation? Or vice versa?

What a complex week. For a rest from intellectual effort, try The Perfect Man. Hollywood proves that all you need is a kind-hearted mother (Heather Locklear), a pretty daughter (Hilary Duff) and their parallel quests for the perfect heart-throb to have your brain turned to perfect mush.

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