Written and Directed by Miranda July
Starring Miranda July, John Hawkes, Brandon Ratcliffe, Miles Thompson, Carrie Westerman, Tracy Wright.
That's the secret password. If you recognize it, you've seen this movie and, like most people who have seen it, were delighted by it. It made many critics' top ten lists in 2005, a strange little comedy-drama that stays with you a long time.
Christine Jesperson (Miranda July) is a video performance artist who had a hard time forming relationships. She starts to become interested in Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), whose wife has left him and his two boys Peter (Miles Thmpson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliffe). Left alone while their father works as a shoe salesman, Peter hangs out with the neighborhood girls, who all have issues of their own. Robby is only six, and spends much of his time in adult Internet chatrooms, where he runs into art curator Nancy Herrington (Tracy Wright), who finds his childlike attitude more sexually significant than Robby could ever understand.
The movie is about making connections. No one really seems to know how to go about it. Christine fantasizes and puts it on video; a neighbor writes puts sexually suggestive notes in his window and ends up, to his horror, seducing teenage girls; the teens, who know about sex, but have no understanding, try to use it as a way to grow up.
Sex plays a major role in the film, but not just bedroom antics. It concentrates more on the preliminaries and psychological meanderings that are colored by a world where sex is out in the open. It's the big issue that hangs over any attempt to get close, and the movie shows people dealing with it.
This is a movie filled with discovery and delight. It's not a smooth ride -- some scenes are very creepy, but then, often life is that way. Things take on meanings that you never would have imagined. And, ultimately connections are made.
All the characters are vivid and wonderful. You can sense all the kids feeling they are in over their heads trying to deal with connecting with others, but the adults are hardly better. It's a very natural acting style for everyone.
Miranda July is excellent as Christine. Since she wrote and directed the movie, you'd expect that she makes it a showcase for her talents, but she has the talent and self-confidence to stand back and tell stories that have nothing to do with her. Christine is trying to deal with life as an adult, and fumbles along in setting up the relationship, sometimes saying the right thing, sometimes doing something horribly wrong, and going home to incorporate the best parts in her fantasy.
But all the actors are just fine. These are real people, and you can see their foibles. And ultimately, when the movie ends, you come out of it with an appreciation of life.
The movie made a minor profit -- keeping it on a small budget helped -- but it probably did less business than next week's flop opening. Nor was the type of film do attract a big crowd. But box office never was a guarantee of quality.
July hasn't made another feature (this was her first), but it's only been a couple of years. I look forward to see if she can continue with writing and directing such a deep slice of humanity.