“Like some Gallic version of Tim Burton, Michel Gondry’s initial promise has given way to a series of films whose diminishing returns demonstrate that he’s a talented visualist without the capacity for, or worse, any interest in, telling an actual story,” begins James Rocchi at the Playlist. “Gondry’s defenders will, of course, point to the excellent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the passage of years has made it abundantly clear that the credit for that film is entirely screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s… The We and the I, opening the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, was probably seen as a potential return to some past form; with great regret, I must state that it is not. Unspooling on a long cross-Bronx bus ride after the last day of school for the summer, Gondry (and co-screenwriters Jeffery Grimshaw and Paul Proch) put us on the bus with a cross-section of kids—bullying bluff bros, social queen bees obsessing on an upcoming Sweet 16 party, the hapless and the helpless, and Theresa (Theresa L. Rivera), who’s chosen today to come back from a 3-month absence, in a brassy bottle-blonde wig.”
“Believably boring and adolescent, but to a fault, the movie sputters until its final third, when, Breakfast Club-style, the kids turn serious,” sighs Rob Nelson in Variety. “Reading as Gondry’s back-to-basics response to the failure of The Green Hornet, The We and the I could’ve been lensed by the amateur auteurs of his Be Kind Rewind.”
But for David Rooney, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, this is “an idiosyncratic, funny, unexpectedly poignant snapshot of American youth… Rambling and unpolished, the film has a scrappy charm that springs organically from the characters and their stories rather than being artificially coaxed. And while its South Bronx milieu is both vivid and specific, it also has enough universality to connect with teens across broader socio-cultural lines…. Broken down into three parts—The Bullies, The Chaos, The I—the main stories take shape slowly and satisfyingly.”
“Gondry, a 49-year-old Frenchman, makes a surprisingly successful go of following the babble and switch of young, fast-talking Bronxites,” finds Henry Barnes in the Guardian. “Most of the cast are non-professional actors recruited from a local after-school program. The inexperience shows, but their stories—Laidy (Lady Chen Carrasco) struggles to organize a world-changing sweet-16 party, sleazy Jonathan (Jonathan Ortiz) connects with a beautiful girl riding her bike outside the bus—are well-developed, if simplistic. Gondry’s argument—that pack mentality crushes individual expression—follows a similarly predictable route, but there’s enough of his signature playfulness (especially in the use of mobile-phone footage to present flashbacks) to keep the journey entertaining.”
Screen‘s Mark Adams agrees that “while initially a little heavy-handed as it sets up its character-heavy format, its strength comes as its young, inexperienced, cast make their impact on the film, with the closing scenes powerful and subtly moving.”
Eric Kohn interviews Gondry for indieWIRE and Eugene Hernandez talks with him for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. We posted the trailer a few days ago, and the Fortnight’s followed up a video interview with Gondry—in French, naturally—and video from the Q&A, most of that in French as well. Here, though, actors Michael Brody and Raymond Delgado Jr. respond to questions in English:
Updates: “Gondry could probably have made a terrific short from this material,” suggests Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club. “At feature length, however, it feels inordinately unfocused, and a last-minute swerve into earnest speechifying doesn’t help. Still, I’d rather see Gondry experiment with small-scale movies like this than squander his creativity on Hollywood superhero spoofs.”
“Contemporary filmmakers like Todd Phillips (Project X) and Josh Trank (Chronicle) ostensibly examine their young protagonists’ narcissism, but in The We and the I, Gondry is more ostentatious than they are, and also more genuinely concerned with indulging and then deflating his teens’ egos.” Simon Abrams at Press Play: “The broad beats of The We and the I‘s narrative may be arranged on a series of criss-crossing schematic laundry lines, but the film is at its best when characters’ actions create a chain reaction. Once Gondry’s characters bluntly tell us what the stakes of the film’s drama are, the movie loses potency. But at the height of its frenzy, Gondry’s latest movie buzzes with hormones and posturing and All That Angst.”
Update, 5/20: Another video interview with Gondry, this one in English, for the Guardian (3’11”).
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