May 21, 2012

The We and the I

Michel Gondry’s latest foray into film delves headfirst into the urban jungle, contained within a single bus ride home on the last day of school. Through a variety of characters weaving their stories together to create a more complete inner city high school experience, Gondry explores themes of sexuality, young love, insecurities, and bullying.

When I first saw this film, I was left with a confusing, bitter taste in my mouth. The acting was astonishingly tragic, enough to distract from message of the film. While well-shot within the confines of the bus, fluidly transitioning from character to character, there was a lack of strict narrative, instead serving as a vehicle for a series of closely related anecdotes to be loosely connected. While I may have liked parts of it, such as the dynamic between Laidychou and her friend as they fought over her birthday party, or Teresa’s constant search for acceptance by Michael and his co-conspirators – the bullies of the class, it was hard to keep focused through what felt like sloppy storytelling. I also questioned the validity of the narrative, wondering where Gondry gathered these ideas.

After, as I began investigating the film, I learned that the stories being told were not of Gondry’s invention, but were rather the stories of the actors playing each respective character. Rather than write a fluid narrative to create an urban drama, Gondry took the lives of his unprofessional actors and placed them in the frame.

This revelation forced me to re-evaluate the film. Rather than cringe at the sight of the unprofessional, untrained faces, I see them as fresh and honest. These are people telling their own stories, with a vehicle that would never have been available for them without Gondry. Now I no longer can question the stories and the negative light in which the characters were portrayed, as they are portraying themselves through their own eyes.

A valiant effort indeed, but it fails to deliver the punch that such an endeavor requires to be memorable. The characters are unredeemable and unlikeable, without a single protagonist to guide us through their journey. While the tension is palpable, it feels artificially constructed, in spite of the honesty of the characters. This is a film that must be investigated prior to viewing, as it drastically alters the viewing experience, yet it is a film. Just a film. The nature of it should have been made far more explicit from the very beginning, rather than through post-viewing investigation.

I still cannot decide whether I enjoyed the film, but I did find the stories themselves interesting, and it was well shot. Still, the amateur feel did not contribute to the overall quality, especially based on the length. I can’t really give it more than a B-.

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