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Indie Snapshot: The We and the I

by Ethan Alter March 8, 2013 12:54 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>The We and the I</i>

After his leaden attempt at a superhero movie, The Green Hornet, Michel Gondry gets back to his low-budget roots with The We and the I and rediscovers his formidable formal playfulness in the process. Set entirely aboard a New York city public bus on the last day of high school before summer break, the film begins with a group of rambunctious high schoolers (all of whom are played by actual teenagers from the South Bronx and members of a prominent after-school drama program) boarding the vehicle and ends when the last of them disembarks roughly an hour and a half later. Apart from a handful of flashbacks and a brief pizza run when the bus is parked in traffic, we never venture through those double doors into the outside world. The bus, in effect, becomes a high school hallway in miniature, with the kids bitching about their lives, making up (and out) with each other and, in general, flirting like mad.

Spending 100 minutes trapped in close quarters with a company of rowdy teens might sound like the seventh circle of hell, but The We and the I is the opposite of oppressive. It's a loose and even joyous celebration of youthful energy, one that feels all the more vibrant and authentic because the actors involved are (or were, at the time the movie was shot) still in school, instead of twentysomethings trying to recreate those vanished years. That said, there's always a risk when a director decides to pack the cast with non-professionals and, to be honest, few of these performers could probably carry an entire film by themselves. Fortunately, Gondry is more interested in the group dynamics of the contemporary high school set and pairs them up in groups of two or more whenever possible. To further acclimate them to the artificiality of feature filmmaking, he has them act out incidents and experiences that have impacted them in their own lives. The overlapping storylines that ebb and flow throughout the movie include one girl's attempts to organize the guest list for her "sweet 16" party, a talented artist who has decided to add a dash of glamour to her look and is endlessly ridiculed for it and a trio of guy friends who like to imagine themselves as being far cooler than they actually are.

Given the limitations of the premise, The We and the I does hit some slow patches en route to its last stop, but Gondry is careful to keep the visual style and overall mood fluid. This is the closest he's gotten in some time to recreating the playful energy that defined his best movie to date, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (His use of classic hip-hop tracks like "Busts a Move" also lends the movie considerable bounce.) He takes these kids and their problems seriously, but not too seriously that he can't puncture their bubble self-absorption every now and then. Is The We and the I ultimately a minor movie from an artist whose proven himself capable of more ambitious fare? Yes, but all things considered, it's a fun ride.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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