Film

'The We and the I': Realities of Adolescence

The We and the I feels, as it rolls along, more and more like one of Michel Gondry's finest accomplishments.


The We and the I

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Michael Brodie, Teresa Lynn, Laidychen Carrasco, Alex Barrios, Meghan Niomi Murphy, Jacobchen Carrasco, Mia Lobo, Jonathan Scott Worrell
Rated: R
Studio: Partizan Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-03-08 (Limited release)
Trailer
Official site

Michel Gondry often synthesizes the technically modest with the logistically intricate. In films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, as well as documentaries and music videos, he likes to employ old-fashioned, handmade visual tricks to convey emotions not easily described. In The We and the I, Gondry uses fewer of his visual signatures, but he still mashes together simplicity and complexity. To tell a story about teenagers, he takes recognizable teen-movie formats (like the short time-frame and wide cross-section of The Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused), then applies (and limits) them to a single New York City bus full of actual Bronx teenagers.

The We and the I, produced in collaboration with these teenagers as an extension of Gondry's Be Kind Rewind-inspired community movie projects, begins at the end of the last day of school. Dozens of kids from a Bronx high school hop on the (fictional) BX66 bus and begin their journey home and into the summer. We see cliques, outsiders, exes, and enemies packed together, staking out their territories.

The clamor and the sheer number of characters could turn overwhelming, but Gondry's fluid cutting makes the introductions surprisingly breezy, capturing the group's ebb and flow. Organization comes from the movie's clear framework: when a character leaves the bus, he or she disappears from the narrative as soon as the vehicle pulls away. As such, a gregarious character like Big T (Jonathan Scott Worrell) seems like he may figure heavily into the story, but his stop comes early, while some of the quieter kids reveal themselves as the bus gradually empties out. Only the gangly Elijah (Elijah Canada) appears from outside the bus route, via a cellphone video of him slipping on a butter-greased floor, his plotline expanding throughout the day with more grainy videos of his further adventures.

There are non-teenagers riding the bus, too, but only the driver (Mia Lobo) gets anything resembling a word in edgewise. New Yorkers in particular may recognize the raucousness and heedlessness of kids taking over public transportation, hassling each other or even strangers, testing and breaking the limits of their youthful bravado. Gondry doesn't avoid this unpleasantness, sometimes bordering on monstrousness, of teenagers traveling in a pack. When Michael (Michael Brodie) and his best friends in the back of the bus reach out to harass their classmates, the acts waver from careless pranks into active, intentional cruelty. At one point, one kid grabs another's guitar and smashes it, because he's sick of hearing his music. The moment recalls the famous one when John Belushi performed a similar act in Animal House, only here the meanness is in full view.

Yet even the film's meanest characters have moments of empathy and comedy that recall touchstones like The Breakfast Club -- without that movie's glib faux uplift. In one of the movie's main threads, Teresa (Teresa Lynn) has returned to school for the last day of the year following a mysterious month-long absence, and takes back her usual place with Michael and his buddies in the back, despite obvious hostility on both sides. In just one row of seats, Gondry and his teenage actors -- occasionally and understandably stiff when given longer passages of dialogue, but largely remarkable -- generate countless permutations of hurt feelings and broken promises, masked with false confidence and comic insults. And that's only among the movie's less likable characters.

With all of these hormones loose in such a small space, you might expect The We and the I to grow claustrophobic, but the movie, shot largely in unobtrusive handheld, feels remarkably expansive. Even potential cheats on the movie's one-location limitation -- off-bus cutaways to cover flashbacks and brief fantasies -- deepen the characters by showing us their more playful, sometimes childlike sides. In those scenes, Gondry makes sparing use of his personal style: when a kid tells a long, elaborate lie about his night of partying with Donald Trump, we see his imagined nightclub in homemade-looking sets and cartoonish drinks that could have come from the director's low budget music videos, and when another kid wishes aloud that his art teacher would drop his cigarette and catch on fire, we see the teacher engulfed in cardboard flames.

These touches take up perhaps 10 or 15 percent of the movie; initial reports, probably erroneous, described a more recognizably Gondry-ish film, about kids traveling into the future by mistake and discovering some kind of youth-preserving machine. Whether the project evolved away from that concept or never actually touched it, the film here engages in a more subtle form of time travel. The bus trip unfolds in what appears to be more or less real time, but the route also stretches from the brightness of midday into the dark of night: for New York in June, this would span at least five hours. During this fluctuating time and space, some of the characters make and discard a summer's worth of plans. Michael, in particular, goes through changes at least partially due to who's sitting beside him.

It all adds up to a beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of teenage psychology, social and otherwise. This kind of attention to the realities of adolescence is too rare in movies. If The We and the I springs less directly from the director's psyche than, say, The Science of Sleep, this small-scale collaboration with a bunch of smart kids feels, as it rolls along, more and more like one of his finest accomplishments.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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