LFF 2012: Michel Gondry's The We and the I

Ashley Clark

Michel Gondry’s latest is an engaging drama set entirely on the last day of school in the South Bronx. Following familiar scenes of kids escaping their educational prison with unrestrained glee, they all leap aboard the bus to take them the hell out of there. Archetypes are swiftly established: the loudmouth bullies in the back seats; the preening-yet-insecure princess; the earnest musician types; the lonely, troubled girl (here in a bizarre Lady Gaga-esque wig); the arty nerd etc...

And then they begin to interact, with conflicts and conversations popping off all over the place. Some of the exchanges are laugh-out-loud funny, some are shocking, others – including a gay relationship that’s soured – are particularly touching. Assisted by lively, convincing performances from a large cast of non-professional actors, The We and the I is strong in communicating the psychology of a group situation. En masse, these kids are the “we” of the title; acting up, fronting and trying desperately to impress each other. However, in a series of tender micro-moments, we occasionally get to see the “I”, even more so as the bus gets progressively emptier, and the film shifts gradually from raucous to ruminative. 

Gondry and his editors do a sterling job of keeping the ensemble fresh, consistently cutting to the right character/plotline at just the right moment. The film also makes clever use of social media and technology as not just a visual trick and editing aid, but also to comment on the changing nature of communication amongst the kids. “Are you really texting while we’re talking?”, questions one character. We’ve all been there...

Undeterred by the restrictive setting, Gondry keeps finding new ways to shoot, and moves the action along with some neat-montage style transitions which show the changing shape of The Bronx the further out the bus travels; there’s a real sense of place here. There’s also a brilliantly eclectic soundtrack of old-school hip hop and dreamy lo-fi glitch pop that helps stitch the scenes and wistful mood together. Stylistically, Gondry plays it pretty straight, although there are a handful of his customarily madcap DIY flashes on show (how’s about the old Jewish lady attacking a fat kid with a twig in sped-up hyper motion?)

Like Richard Linklater’s brilliant Dazed and Confused, Gondry’s film is mercifully free of sentiment, though it never veers into the brutal nihilism of Larry Clark’s fellow New York film Kids. It’s just an honest, sensitive portrayal of teenagers and how horrible they can sometimes be toward each other at an age where image is all-important. It will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been to school (that’s most of us). Funny, moving and engaging to the last, The We and the I is a low-key treat from a director with bags of versatility at his disposal.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark

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