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Phone Follower: Miranda July plays a woman who likes to stay connected no matter what the cost.

Latchkey Kids

'Me and You and Everyone We Know' is the best tag-team movie about Los Angeles since 'Short Cuts'

By Richard von Busack

EVERY NOW and then a film will come along that unites critics and the public into one vast wave of appreciation. Experience suggests that director/writer/star Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know isn't one of those films. Still, it will be a wild favorite for a minority, the ones who treasure a movie that combines goofy charm, the sharp tang of sensitivity and a good portion of perverted humor.

The Berkeley-raised artist July works in a number of media, including recordings, video art and writing. She directed a Sleater-Kinney video and was a dialogue consultant on Wayne Wang's neglected The Center of the World. Hearing about her credentials you'd expect her to be as urban as a car alarm. But onscreen, she is a deerlike figure with malice-free blue eyes and that look of slender frailty that was so popular in silent movie actresses. July is so slim that her character, Christine, wears a blouse with diagonal stripes just to make herself look more substantial.

Christine is an unsuccessful video artist in L.A. whose day job is driving an Eldertaxi. When taking an old man to the mall, Christine develops a strong crush on a shoe salesman named Richard (John Hawkes), who is newly separated from his wife, the mother of his two children.

In her goony way, Christine stalks Richard, trying to get him to phone her: "Call me if you ever feel too old to drive." Referring to Fatal Attraction, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker calls Christine a "bunny boiler." Does Lane recall the scene where Christine tries to pass on a last good wish to a doomed goldfish? Christine is obviously harmless, even in the intensity of her feelings.

And Richard could do a whole lot worse. As played by Hawkes, he is morose; the odor of divorce rises off of him like the smell of sweat. Right before the title sequence, he makes a grand gesture of love to his wife. She's unmoved, and he has to wear bandages on his hand for the entire movie.

As much as his tired funk allows, he tries to get his boys' attention. ("Look at the bright side. Some kids don't have even one home, and now you have two.") Hawkes does a better job with the Sean Penn type than Penn himself has recently. In a parallel episode, July follows a pair of randy teenage girls who like to harass males. What Rebecca the ringleader (15-year-old Najarra Townsend) and her beta-girl follower Heather (16-year-old Natasha Slayton) have in mind is all mischief and no follow-through. In these risqué-comic sequences, July demonstrates the best comprehension of teen-girl talk and action since Ghost World.

The two soon turn their attention on Richard's 14-year-old son, Peter (Miles Thomson). In an even riskier segment, Richard's 7-year-old son, Robby, gets an online suitor, who is fascinated by the ridiculous cryptosexual suggestions dreamt up by the two brothers.

Strangely, critic Lane likens these forbidden communications between adults and children to the shock in Todd Solondz's films. (July's title, so similar to Neil LaBute's Your Friends and Neighbors, might also seem like some lecture against adult neglect and transgression.) But July's subject matter isn't the betrayal of innocence. Rather, it's the childishness that never really leaves sexuality. Sex is the one realm where weary adults are allowed kid-stuff—bullying, brattiness and teasing, bizarre ideas and mad fantasy.

Although she deals with scary taboos, July provides a theme that is gentle and modest. She illustrates human fear of contact. As one character grouses, "Email wouldn't exist if it weren't for AIDS." The cell-phone users, the video-diary maker and the email pen pal—each filters the world in his or her own ways. Even Richard the shoe salesman has to tell a customer he is not supposed to touch human feet.

Email seemed a godsend, a method of correcting all conversation in advance before misunderstandings could occur. Of course, this wasn't the case. (And thus the moronic emoticon was born.) The habit of filtering out half-thought thoughts makes dealing with a flesh-and-blood person more difficult.

Amused with the artificial, the movie comes out in favor of the real. Among its last shots is a framed photograph of a songbird "freed," cradled in a tree branch. The image is as unexpected and poignant as the stuffed parrot that comes to life in the Flaubert story.

Some museums sell T-shirts reading, "Art Can't Hurt You." Without being the work of a sell-out, a panderer or an underachiever, Me and You and Everyone We Know fits this motto. July's ambient compassion is just as evident in her acting as it is in her creation of this sweet and funny film.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (R; 90 min.), directed and written by Miranda July, photographed by Chuy Chávez and starring July and John Hawkes, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the June 29-July 5, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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