What's the time limit for mourning a bad film from one of today's most innovative filmmakers? Until their next feature? Forever? I want to discuss Michel Gondry's latest effort, The We and the I, a shockingly horrendous film that strips away every bit of this man's gifted imagination.
Shot almost entirely on a bus, the French New Wave-influenced The We and the I revolves around inner-city kids in New York on their ride home from school. On a bus. One by one, they get dropped off (as people do after getting on a bus), and talk, banter, and bicker about everything teenagers with hormones talk, banter, and bicker about. "Sounds like a great film!" said arthouse smarty pants everywhere. Then one learns Michel Gondry directed it and their curiosity gets a raging boner. "At least it'll be a visual feast," you convince yourself. Then the end credits roll and you realize you were robbed of all expectations. Aside from the opening credits (I won't give that away so you'll have something to look forward to), there's nothing visually appetizing about this film.
What makes Gondry a celebrated filmmaker *is* his crafty visuals. He's a wizard at challenging his audience's point of view -- perhaps *the* wizard. The We and the I could be Gondry's aim at telling a smaller, uncomplicated story. And there's no harm in that; it just doesn't work. Sure, there's a moral behind this film and we're supposed to feel some compassion for a few of our main characters. But their development is stunted with self-conscious jargon and a hyperactive camera that can't seem to focus on one character for more than a few minutes. It's profoundly unmoving (ironic, I know).
Gondry has mastered making pleasing music videos in a single location, but those were less than five minutes long and had artists front and center who are masters at showmanship: Björk, Daft Punk, and The Chemical Brothers, to name a few. Looking over his feature filmmaking career, it's unquestionable that he's better at the short form.
Take a close look at Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, nine years ago); it's a feature film written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman but designed as a series of shorts. One segment after another, our main character, played by Jim Carrey, goes through a cycle of hypnotic dreams. This movie would have never been as celebrated without Gondry's special touch. But now this begs the question: Should he continue to make feature films or stick with what he knows best -- music videos and short films?
I'll always stand by my man, but along with his last two feature narratives (we're going to pretend the Spike Jones-produced, Charlie Kaufman-written, and Michel Gondry-directed travesty, Human Nature, nevereverever happened), The We and the I fails to please. Gondry has many talents. Telling a teenager's coming-of-age story on a bus isn't one of them.
The We and the I opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday, March 8.