Do you remember how you felt on the last day of school before summer? Jubilant, relieved, liberated, anxious… depending on where you fell in the social order of high school, the last day was either the means to an end or merely the beginning. Michel Gondry, the inventive French director behind the modern classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well as ambitious flops such as The Green Hornet and Be Kind Rewind, attempts to bottle this complicated palette of emotions within The We and the I, a coming-of-age story set on a New York City bus shuttling kids home for the summer. Gondry largely succeeds in capturing the candid nature of these teens. Unfortunately, they’re so mean-spirited and volatile in an effort to hide their own insecurities, it’s very difficult to care when the characters learn, mature, and find redemption.
The We and the I encompasses the entire social circle– the bullies, the promiscuous, the cool kids, and the nerds– within the confines of a single bus ride. Everyone is struggling to fit in: on the bus, in with the crowd, even in their own skin. Though the dialogue delivery is rather stale, the authenticity of adolescence rings true among the cast, all first-time actors from a Bronx Community Arts Center that Gondry worked with for over 2 years. The director takes great care to present these characters in an unbiased, straight-forward fashion to allow the audience to make up their own minds as to whether these kids are misguided and ignorant or ugly and malicious.
But ultimately, The We and the I doesn’t set up the viewer to invest at all in the fate of its characters, and the impotent narrative arc certainly doesn’t aid in rendering any sort of justice or catharsis by the end of the film. While I felt like I knew these kids well by the time the credits rolled, I just didn’t care about them. And I certainly would have gotten off of that bus.
The We and the I is now playing at the Ritz at the Bourse.