A city bus full of South Bronx high-schoolers headed home on the last day of school provides the setting for Michel Gondry’s “The We and The I” (2013). Every scene bombinates and clatters with pent-up, giddy energy. Alex Disenhof’s camera moves like real-time documentary, yet each shot is carefully framed and lit, intensifying the visual experience.
The kids communicate in surging flash floods of words, face-to-face and via cell phone, while Young MC raps “Bust a Move” in the background. The yawning vacuum of summer is about to happen, and beyond that, the rest of these soon-to-be-adults’ lives. Most will not be summering in the Hamptons or Amalfi Coast, or even Tampa Bay's St. Petersburg.
See trailer for “ The We and The I” HERE.
The French-born Gondry’s previous work includes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), “The Science of Sleep” (2006), “The Green Hornet” (2011) and Dave Chappelle’s “Block Party” (2005). His undeniable flair for imaginative visuals persists in “The We and The I,” though in charmingly lo-tech fashion.
He is also a gifted director – it’s not easy to create a scene that includes a black teenager suggestively squirting a container of vanilla pudding on an elderly white lady (Gondry’s next-door neighbor in real life) who had called the rowdy non-white kids on the bus “jungle bunnies.”
The cast is comprised of first-time actors from a Bronx neighborhood after-school arts program called The Point. Gondry and crew spent over two years workshopping the piece with students, starting with a 25-page script (co-written by Gondry, Paul Proch and Jeffrey Grimshaw). The writers were smart enough to talk to everyone involved, discover who they were, record their stories in their own words and incorporate it all into the script. The realism shows.
In the case of bus driver Mia Lobo, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority insisted an actual MTA-trained employee navigate the bus.
Gondry manages to insert appropriately downsized special effects, including a flaming red papier-mâché representation of Hell. Wanna-be celebrity Sam (Justin McMillan) recalls an alleged party episode with The Donald. Even Jesus (yes, the son of you-know-who) makes a cameo.
All the noise, longing, cajoling and jockeying for status subsides as more students disembark from the bus. Hopes and dreams are put on hold; some promise to thrive, while others fare less well – in one case, extinguished forever.
See playdates and locations for “The We and The I ” HERE.
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