Considering the countless ways a film can be ruined at any step of the process, it's always a minor miracle when one perfectly realizes its creator's unique and uncompromising vision. The transcendent new Me And You And Everyone We Know is one such anomaly. It's a touching, poignant comedy about the alienation of contemporary life and the universal need for meaningful connections, and it announces writer-director-star Miranda July as a major new voice.
The winner of a special "Originality Of Vision" jury prize at Sundance and a multiple award-winner at Cannes, Me And You is July's feature-length directorial debut. But she's been working in a variety of media for years, from video-performance pieces to short stories to albums. In addition to her own films and videos, July scored a story credit on Wayne Wang's The Center Of The World and appeared in the cult favorite Jesus' Son. The A.V. Club recently sat down with July to discuss her relationship with the art world, Me And You And Everyone We Know, and the cathartic nature of making stuff up.
The Onion: So if someone on an airplane was to sit down next to you and ask "What do you do?", how would you answer that question?
Miranda July: It's funny, because I've been on an airplane and have been very brief about that. Right now, it's so convenient to just say, "I'm a director," because everyone knows what that is. And for so long, I had to say, "Well… I perform," and then they're like, "Oh, so you're a dancer? Or a singer?" And I'm like, "No, I do these multimedia performances, and it's kind of like a play, but I'm all the characters, but it's like a movie because there's video in it." Then I say, "But I also make short movies, and I also write short stories and do radio pieces." By that point, they're intrigued. So it is kind of convenient to say, "I'm a filmmaker." You know exactly what that is.
O: How did Me And You And Everyone We Know come about?
MJ: I was [in Chicago] in June 2001, and I did something at the Art Institute… I got on the el train, and I had these sudden quick thoughts about the father and his two sons, and the lighting his hand on fire, and the art curator and the artist, and the shoe store/department store… I got off and thought, "Okay, this is my first feature." And I hate to have ideas and not do them. So it was kind of just in announcing that to myself that it was as good as done.
O: Was the idea always that all these characters would be connected?
MJ: Yeah, I began to realize the more they actually connect, the more interesting it is. It was very much learning as I went along. Even the structure… I remember when I was at the Sundance lab, someone telling me gently that you didn't have to put the characters' names in all caps all the way through. I was like, "Oh, okay… how embarrassing." But you're, like, an Academy Award-winning person and you're telling me that?
O: What do you view as the film's major theme?
MJ: Hmm, I don't know.
O: It seems like it's essentially about the difficulty of forging connections in a society where technology alienates people as much as it brings them together.
MJ: I think technology, to some degree, reflects us, and people with and without technology are both propelling themselves toward people and stepping away from people in the same action. Almost everyone does that in the movie, and they both kind of want someone, and create something that stands between them. My character, Christine, when she projects the fantasy "Wild dogs couldn't drive me away from you…" That's a kind of fantasy standing between her and reality, and just the way the Internet kind of does that for the other characters, with signs in the window.
O: While you were filming, were you living in the story, or was it something you could film and then go home at the end of the day?
MJ: I'd go home. I wouldn't put it all away, I wished I could. It's weird, I mean, being in it was physically quite hard for me… This was brutal, you know? Why would anyone live on this schedule if they didn't have to? So I'd come home, and there'd be at least a scene with me in it, and so I'd have to shower and put my hair how it had to be. It's weird not just getting to fall apart as the director; I have to be ready to be in my character.
O: How similar are you to the character you play in the film?
MJ: Sometimes I look at it like, "Christine probably couldn't have made this movie." That's probably the biggest difference between us. She's maybe me at a time in my life where…
O: Do you think she aspired to make a movie like this?
MJ: Yeah, maybe in a few years. It was so clear to me at one point that art was just there for me to survive unbearable feelings. And yeah, there was a comfort, and to kind of propel me toward. She probably thinks on some level, "Maybe if it was in the museum, he would see it." Of course, all those desires are good things to propel you, but ultimately, the art doesn't actually draw you closer to people, more people just know that you exist.
O: It also seems like art is a way of making sense of the world…
MJ: My latest funny thing to think—I'm the kind of person that is always like, "Wow, well, that was a coincidence, what does that mean?"—and instead to think, "Maybe it means nothing." That's a really radical idea for me, and I don't actually believe it, but it's just fun to try that on.