The We and the I (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
It is the last day of high school in the Bronx and the students are ready for the summer. After the long-awaited ringing of the bell, teens from different cliques board the public bus and director Michel Gondry observes with his camera. If it were not for the more whimsical scenes inserted between casual conversations, one could not be blamed for mistaking the picture for a documentary because its flow and texture are so organic.
Casting inexperienced actors who are actually teenagers benefits the picture immensely. I enjoyed that it was a challenge for me to figure out whether most of the dialogue is ad libbed. By the end, I remained unsure. Not only do the words and the phrasings sound incredibly authentic, the performers are able to deliver the right attitude that comes with what they are saying and feeling. Spending time with them made me feel like I was back in high school.
Observing the characters closely, one gets the impression that so many things are going on inside their heads but many of them only know how to communicate a certain way. Take Michael (Michael Brodie) and his goofy friends as an example. They create so much commotion on the back of the bus. They are mean to each other, to their peers who happen to be taking the same bus, and even toward complete strangers. Later, as their numbers dwindle down and the energy is lower, we have a more accurate way of gauging the remaining teens’ maturity levels.
Or maybe we do not. After all, we have only known them for about two hours. There is a key exchange between Michael and Alex (Alex Raul Barrios), the latter not at all impressed with the idea that Michael has only decided to speak to him on the very last day of school. To us, Michael’s sensitive side is almost endearing but to Alex it is simply a charade—and will not have any of it. That alternative perspective is injected with such precision, it is a reminder to us that although we do not spend that much time with each teenager, we get a sense that they have real thoughts and lives outside of that bus.
The picture lacks the necessary focus in order for it to become a fully enveloping experience. There are moments when it gets distracted by flashbacks, flash-forwards, fantasy, and possibilities. While the aforementioned techniques add to the humor somewhat, it comes off trying too hard at times, a contrivance. In a film like this, misplaced quirks are magnified because its aim is to deliver a certain level of realism.
Written by Michel Gondry, Jeffrey Grimshaw, and Paul Proch, “The We and the I” has its limitations but it is nonetheless a beautiful movie. It annoyed me sometimes that just when a character starts to get really interesting, he or she gets off the bus. At the same time, life is like that sometimes. You meet people on your journey and you start to believe that you are in it together until you are not. Everyone has his own destination.