We and the I (2012): Gondry’s Playful Tale of Youth in Bronx, New York

Original, unpredictable, and eccentric director Michel Gondry goes back to his roots—or at least to the kind of filmmaking he is good at with “The We and the I,” a playful, occasionally funny and poignant chronicle of American youth in Bronx, New York.

Serving as the opener of the Cannes Film Fest more experimental series, Directors’ Fortnight, “The We and I” is a charming if rambling account of youth that can travel the festival road and beyond.

Navigating between mainstream (the disappoitning big-budget “The Green Hornet”) and small-budget, offbeat indies (the small-budget but equally disappointing “The Science of Sleep,” which showed at the 2006 Sundance Film Fest), Gondry, who shockingly admits to be 49, has found a subject matter to which he relates instinctively and to which he can apply his offbeat strategy and quirky humor.

“The We and the I” is neither a great film, nor a particualr deep or revelatory one, but it finds Gondry in good shape as a filmmaker who favoring loose storytelling done in light, semi-spontaneous style.

Grounded in the particular locale of South Bronx, the movie aims to say something about contempo youth that’s more general and universal, as the characters in his film represent the kind of cultural and ethnic diversity one can find in many other contexts: There are in the group black, Latino, and Asian kids.

Gondry and his co-writers, Paul Proch and Jeff Grimshaw, have developed the film in a lengthy workshop, collaborating with teens from The Point, a Bronx-based community program.

Interested in showing how a disparate group of teens interact with one another other, what they feel and how they express their feelings in public, Gondry focuses on a bus journey taken on the last day of high school.

During the bus trip, the social dynamics among the group members changes. And if early on, a larger number of teens vie for screen representation, gradually, half a dozen protagonists emerge.

We meet Teresa, a chubby girl, who is on anti-depressenats and is highly aware of their effects on her size and conduct. In contrast, Laidychen, helped by her sidekick Niomi, is a more determined and manipulative girl, now concerned with planning her upcoming sixteenth birthday.

Among the boys, Michael is a handsome, cocky, easily irritable boy, who reveals issues with his girlefried Teresa. There is a touching scene between him and Alex, who for most of the trip is absorbed in reading and keeping to his own, as they discuss their plans for the summer and relationships with parents.

Refreshingly, there is also a gay couple, two boys who struggle with issues of monogamy and promiscuity.

Though loose but quite fluent, the narrative is divided into three chapters, aptly titled The Bullies, the Chaos, the I. For me, the last part is the most significant and touching, because it reveals the emrgence of distinct and distinctive personalities of youths.

Gondry doesn’t neglect the broader socio-economic context, the fact that these youngsters live in a community defined by unemployment, drugs, and violence.

As noted, “The We and the I” was devleoped in a workshop targeted at exposing the teens to the arts, and so inevitably there are elements of calculation and self-consciousness that undercut the spontaneity and naturalness that Gondry had wished to achieve.

Even so, Gonry refrains as much as possible from editorializing the material, showing compassion and almost non-judgmental approach toward the kids, knowing all too weel that adolecence is a painful life phase n matter wehre you live, but especially in the Bronx.

Cast

Michael Brodie, Teresa Lynn, Laidychen Carrasco, Raymond Delgado, Jonathan Ortiz, Jonathan Worrell, Alex Barrios, Meghan ‘Niomi” Murphy

Credits

Director: Michel Gondry
Screenplay: Michel Gondry, Paul Proch, Jeff Grimshaw
Producers: Michel Gondry, Julie Fong, Raffi Adlan, Georges Bermann
Executive producer: Becky Glupcunski
Photography: Alex Disenhof
Production designer: Tommaso Ortino
Costume design: Sarah Mae Burton
Editor: Jeff Buchanan

Running time: 103 minutes