Ang Lee just won a Directing Oscar for shooting most of a film in and around a small boat. Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) goes one step further: a few moments on the street and a handful of Gondry-esque fantasies aside, his latest, the collaborative “The We and the I,” never leaves the inside of a city bus taking high schoolers from one side of the Bronx to the other. In real life, this ride takes considerably less time than the length of an average movie, even in rush hour, but the film, like most Gondrys, exists in an absurdist, heightened version of reality, albeit one with its second foot firmly in reality.
Gondry created the film over four years with high schoolers enrolled in an afterschool arts program. They play “themselves,” which is to say heightened versions of their slightly younger selves (some were already in college by the time Gondry scored the funds and such to shoot). Set after the last day of school, “The We and the I” piles them on an MTA bus, which they immediately make their temporary home. A series of plotless hang-out sessions ensue, the camera jumping between teens of varying backgrounds and social hierarchies, and sometimes into flashbacks that resemble the director’s storied, playful music videos.
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It’s one strain of energy fused with another. The kids are rambunctious, even blue, while, Gondry — nearly 50 but eternally kid-like, who once made a documentary self-portrait entitled “I’ve Been Twelve Forever” — brings his own, splicing in Young MC and his usual makeshift contraptions with today’s youth and cell phone apps. This is the Frenchman’s fourth NYC and vicinity movie — including “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” and the Passaiac-set “Be Kind Rewind” — and he has a way of bottling up the city’s polyglot energy with an ever-curious set of eyes.
As with all of Gondry’s work, there’s a melancholy buried in the whimsy and anarchism. It’s a touch too pronounced, with the film going from freewheeling, freeform fun, fueled by energy and filmmaking as fast as its chatter, to a sad, sober, talky conclusion. There’s ways to delve into character depth without making ruining the fun, as “The We and the I” very nearly does. Although, like the characters — or more specifically, actors — the film is too lovable to engender anything approaching disappointment.
'The We and the I'
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Michael Brody, Teresa Lynn
3 out of 5 Globes