Thursday, June 16, 2005

IFC Center, Part II: Yellow Auteurs, "Incredible Foresight"


It is sooooooooo past your bedtime... IFC President Jonathan Sehring (L) and Miranda July with Me and You co-star Miles Thompson (Photo: STV)

The Reeler returned to the IFC Center on Wednesday, this time to see an actual movie: The new venue premiered Miranda July's buzz-packing debut Me and You and Everyone We Know to not one, but two packed theaters of rapturous applause and accolades, along with maybe just a few people for whom closing credits signify the countdown to an open bar.

At any rate, we were all in it together, and just about everyone was a pretty good sport about it—including July.

"I didn't realize that no movies had been shown in here yet," July said during her self-effacing introduction, gazing around the theater. "So you can always say you saw the first movie here. Even if it's not good, it doesn't really matter."

Exactly. It didn't matter that July's film was uneven and self-aware and too cute by half. What was more important was that IFC Center be worth the toil and hype its benefactors placed behind its development. That Me and You has been as well-received as it has seems like almost too serendipitous a circumstance to coincide with the Center's grand opening; I mean, God knows the last thing IFC (and its corporate parent, Cablevision) wanted was to open its flagship theater in March with the distributor's anemic The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

Of course, such conspiracy theories are not exactly fair to July, who owns an established international following from her decade as a performance artist and whose deft auteur touches are no simple case of beginner's luck. She has crafted the story of Christine (July)—an old-folks' chauffer and aspiring artist—and Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman and newly single dad prone to platitudes and epiphanies. Richard's sons, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) and 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) hover between the mythos of Internet relationships and their own fractured family life.

Christine wields a wide-eyed, damaged innocence that zeroes in on Richard's own vulnerability, resulting in her mild stalking and an awkward courtship. Their struggle to connect forms the thematic thread along which July's other characters are also forced to find a balance: a pair of oversexed teenage girls; a 70-year-old smitten with a dying older woman; Peter and the appliance-collecting little girl next door; Robby and an anonymous Web cruiser who shares the boy's taste for, well, never mind.

The list goes on, and probably for a little too long. July's emphasis on pairs and polarity (as evinced most plainly in her film's title) provides the source of the most cloying storytelling since Garden State, which suffered from the overwrought motif of identity crises. Where July triumphs over Zach Braff, however, is in her handling of Me and You's muted irony. She limits her visual gimmickry in favor of her subjects, whose blank faces seem to simply absorb and accept the absurdity of their surroundings. Even Richard's abortive self-immolation isn't enough to get a rise out of his sons, and Peter is so nonplussed by his first sexual encounter—with two girls, no less—that his only acknowledgement of the act is to ask them for a towel.


I admit it--the cool poster got my hopes up (Photo: IFC)

Inevitably, July's frank treatment of children's sexuality will draw comparisons to the Bard of the Kid-fucking Subplot, Todd Solondz. Each filmmaker seems to be saying, "Hey, these things happen," which is more or less accurate in a real-world sense. But more interesting is how Solondz and July so fearlessly aetheticize these moments, as though they have an emotional resonance equal to adult sexuality. This is a little on the disingenuous side, considering how the shock value of kids having sex is what appeals so much to adult viewers in the first place. It is a cheap subversion that Solondz is much closer to mastering, if only because he has so much more experience with it.

That said, I really like Todd Solondz while I really want to like Miranda July. I felt like Me and You succumbed to pulling punches after establishing an early tendency toward nuanced cruelty, whereas someone like Solondz (or even Sam Mendes, whose American Beauty is plenty evident in July's quiet langour) is close enough to his characters to know their deep flaws are unresolvable in the space of a two-hour narrative.

July did not stick around to view the film again Wednesday night, opting instead for dinner with her father. But after the screening, she told The Reeler that past viewings introduced only a few slight problems she wouldn't mind fixing. "You know, there are a few little edits here or there," she said. "I guess there's other stuff, but I'll let that feeling of incompleteness push me into my next project."

And how is July holding up with the belle-of-the-ball role at Cannes, Sundance and now in New York?

"Oh, I'm thrilled for all of this," she replied in her resplendent yellow dress, gesturing toward the cocktail reception. "Yeah. You just have to learn to have a different relationship with yourself. This is nothing like my real life at all. I have to take care of myself, and sometimes it means just not giving an interview."

Spoken like a true independent. On the business end of things, IFC boss Jonathan Sehring thanked the audience—largely comprising readers and friends of Nerve.com—for coming out for his new baby's baptism. "Nerve has been great," Sehring said before commenting curiously, "We think they had incredible foresight to partner with us."

Wow! And all this time I just thought Nerve was getting by on its appeal to young people's raging hormones. Boy, did I misread the situation.

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