Hear ye, hear ye! Writer/director Michel Gondry’s brief stint in pop culture prison for having heinously directed Seth “The Marijuana Manchild” Rogen as a superhero in The Green Hornet is officially over! He has been pardoned, on the grounds that his latest film, The We and the I, is one of the most wholly honest, conceptually sincere pieces of entertainment to deal with teenage Americans in recent memory. Some may criticize the actors (who weren’t traditional actors and were playing fictional versions of themselves); others may scoff at the chaotic narrative (which was collaboratively crafted with the actors to feel spontaneous). Both “some” and “others” are wrong.
From the opening sequence of a tiny, boombox-shaped, remote controlled bus starts rolling, Gondry’s film is rocking. Interracial students from an inner-city high school flood a public transport bus and become its unchallenged owners. There are “The Bullies” in the back, the outcasts dotting seats throughout and a group of brothers and sisters bickering and discussing a sweet 16 party near the front. And, get this, they behave like actual human beings; well, they behave like teenagers, which are almost human beings.
They text back and forth despite being mere feet from each other. They flirt with one another, they lie to one another and they demonstrate the honest and impossible combination of absolute confidence and complete insecurity that defines this age. Everything is just so real. Hell, there’s even a gay couple going through a crisis not exclusive to being gay (actually, nobody on the bus seems to care about their sexuality at all). This isn’t a cinema verite documentary, but had Gondry plopped a camera on a bus dashboard in Brooklyn, the footage might not vary much.
On the negative side, when you get non-actors to act, it feels simultaneously truthful and “bad.” They don’t operate with the same mindfulness of tone and cadence professionals have. But in the hands of an emotional technician like Gondry, it feels more like genuine spontaneity than amateur thespianism. Also modestly frustrating is the lack of closure to many stories, which admittedly is kind of the point. This is a snapshot, not a whole story; but that means deciding if your deep desire to see what happens to certain characters and not getting to do so is a healthy “wanting more” or an angry “needing resolution.”
Don’t worry; Gondry’s signature elements of whimsy are there to blunt the blow, from spunky daydreams to funky, graffiti inspired visuals. All of it working to underscore this glimpse into humanity at its most raw. Nobody lives and loves like a teenager, to whom a first kiss is salvation or damnation, to whom summer is akin to the Jewish exodus and to whom every day is a new choice in who they will become.
Nearly 20 years ago, The Breakfast Club’s fabulously sanitized depiction of youth defined a generation. The We and the I will not survive as a similar classic, despite doing a better job. But maybe Gondry would loathe that kind of permanence, preferring one honest momentary snapshot.
Grade = A-