The faux-documentary style of Michel Gondry’s The We and The I might be the most disingenuous bits of filmmaking this year. Allegedly a slice of life glimpse into the lives of Bronx area teenagers on a slow bus ride following the last day of school, it’s too static, self-contained, and workshopped to death to feel organic, and far too annoying and misanthropic to generate any entertainment or remote sympathy for most of the interchangeable characters. But perhaps the worst thing about it is just how dreadfully out of touch the whole thing feels. A kid with an iPhone could probably turn in something better and more pointed than this mess.
There’s no plot to speak of. There’s just a bunch of brash teenagers stuck on a bus talking massive amounts of shit about each other and through that we’re meant to glean their hopes, desires, dreams, inner demons, and deeper conflicts. It’s full of shrill, overpowering histrionics for 103 minutes, which is longer than any inner city bus ride than pretty much anyone has ever taken.
The film was workshopped by Gondry and two other writers using non-actors from a New York City youth centre, and I suppose there’s something admirable about this as a project, but not something that anyone should ever have to pay to see either as a film or as a piece of art. It’s made only for the people involved with it. The kids most likely believe they are making something edgy, boundary pushing, and artistic, and Gondry must think he’s making some kind of verite look into the lives of young people today.
These kids are ugly and hateful characters who constantly bully and belittle even their best friends, which would be fine if we ever really got off the bus and saw these kids interacting with each other away from all their friends. Instead, they are either pervy, psychotic, oversexed, or just sociopathic posturers who push weaker people around “because fuck it” as one of them so eloquently puts it.
I know that these situations exist on busses all the time. I’ve seen them. I’ve even been a part of them as a kid. The problem is that I don’t buy it for a single second. Everything here has been scripted to death with so little obvious improvisation outside of these teens making the dialogue seem more realistic. It ends up being exploitative in the worst possibly way, almost like Gondry is a puppet master pulling the strings for his own amusement.
Gondry has created an utterly misguided project where he seems to think that simply having non-actors and a single setting will make the film feel more realistic. It’s obvious through the use of amateurs that his dialogue (or whomever came up with it) is atrocious. It’s not like listening to real kids talking, but some older man trying to approximate what kids say speaking through them. I’m sure the potty mouthed and blatantly offensive dialogue is meant to “keep it real” but some of these teens seem genuinely uncomfortable at times saying these things, and if they seem confident in the material, they come across as terrible, awful people you wouldn’t want to spend more than a few seconds around. The only counterpoints to all of this are an old white woman who starts out getting uncomfortably sexually harassed by a fat black teenager who ends up being a racist (because in Gondry’s eyes these kids HAVE to have justification for being dickheads the rest of the time) and a bus driver who doesn’t do a damned thing until the bullies in the back start smoking (but sexual harassment and assaulting the music geeks is TOTALLY fine).
It could be electrifying and off putting if it was actually real, but there’s nothing here that you couldn’t get for $3 in bus fare in any major city when school is getting out. This is extremely lazy and forced art made by someone who thinks he’s really relating to the beats of young people. He shows he’s an abject fraud in this respect by setting the whole thing to a dreadfully out of touch old school hip-hop soundtrack and taking an unfathomable 75 minutes – once all but three students are off the bus and the sun has inexplicably gone down in what has to be June, meaning the bus ride was at least 5 hours long – to get to any sort of writing that gives anyone a small shred of depth. He isn’t celebrating youth. He’s unwittingly showcasing how the future is damned to being an eternity of whiny little shits. And that’s the fakest thing about the movie. Kids can be cruel, but this movie is pure torture. You can learn more simply by observing kids in their natural habitat than Gondry could ever show you, and then you can draw your own decisions than listen to his tone deaf take on kids today.