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"The We and the I" lacks Gondry's unique visual flair at UICA

Michel Gondry's "The We and the I" is playing at The UICA.
Michel Gondry's "The We and the I"

Michel Gondry's "The We and the I" /Courtesy of The UICA

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Additional Information

Showtimes for "The We and the I"

4/26 Friday – 3:30, 8:15 p.m.
4/27 Saturday – 12:15, 4:15, 8:30 p.m.
4/28 Sunday – 2:30, 7:00 p.m.
4/29 Monday – Closed
4/30 Tuesday – 8:15 p.m.
5/1 Wednesday – 8:15 p.m.
5/2 Thursday – 8:15 p.m.

UICA Film Calendar

I really wanted to like “The We and the I.” Prior to watching the film, I knew Michel Gondry directed and co-wrote it, so my hopes were sky-high. Gondry is must-see cinema. He has created some of the most visually interesting, creative and charmingly nostalgic films, music videos and commercials of the last few decades.

With these successes, expectations have risen with every new release. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a once in a generation cinematic experience both visually and in its story. “The Science of Sleep” was a fun and playful exercise in stop motion animation, handmade cardboard sets and nostalgia. His upcoming “Mood Indigo” looks like another instant classic.

There are many cinematic triumphs in his portfolio. However, Gondry fans are still trying to cleanse their palate of his first foray into the blockbuster-superhero-action genre.

To say “The Green Hornet” was a misstep is putting it kindly.

While “The Green Hornet” was a departure from his typical film, both in story and visually, “The We and the I” is a move toward Gondry’s wheelhouse. At least in story.

It was apparent that Gondry was a bit shy in using his typical overall aesthetic. There are a few instances of his unique visuals, such as the dreamy flashbacks and the in-camera trick of dividing the screen into two concurrent scenes.

I was expecting more stop motion sequences, or bathtubs filled with blue cellophane in the place of water, or oversized novelty library books or flashbacks projected on large bed sheets. I expected a lot. And I was disappointed. But perhaps I set myself up for failure.

While I would have enjoyed more of Gondry’s personality and aesthetic, the story and plot are not quite as drastic a departure from his earlier work.

“The We and the I” is a story about the last day of school before summer vacation begins. The characters are high schoolers in the Bronx, and we learn about each of them and their ever-shifting relationships, all while they ride their bus home.

This is where Gondry really seems to shine: while exploring the complexities of human relationships and the human condition. When Gondry has had the most success in his films he explored similar themes.

If not for the dramatized flashbacks, the whole film would seem to be a documentary or a reality TV show. The vast majority of the characters are played by untrained actors who give off a genuine vibe of adolescence. Gondry seems to blur the line of documentary and fiction filmmaking.

“The We and the I” forces us to question who we are when we are around certain people. We act differently when we are with different groups. We might not be as casual and informal in the office, yet we might be more laid back among our friends.

In one scene that exemplifies this issue, it is revealed that one high schooler, Michael, had ignored one classmate, Manuel, for the entire school year. When Michael’s friends get off at their respective bus stops, he decides to try and befriend Manuel.

Manuel confronts Michael about hanging out with terrible, bullying friends one minute and attempting to befriend someone he has ignored for the entire year, the next. Why did Michael decide to interact with Manuel on the last bus ride of the school year?

Michael doesn’t have an answer. And really, there isn’t much of an explanation. We act how we act because we want to be accepted by those around us. The human condition is complex.

“The We and the I” is really kind of a perfect title for this film. When someone is in a group setting, we can be different than who we are by ourselves. It’s not a character flaw, it’s being human.

While I certainly am a huge fan of Gondry, and enjoy most of his films, “The We and the I” left something to be desired. And it is precisely because I am a huge Gondry-phile that I felt a sense of hollowness after watching the film. I missed his charming aesthetic. In my gut, it did not feel like a Gondry film, even if the themes aligned with his past works.

You might enjoy “The We and the I” if you like documentary style films or discussions on identity. For Gondry fans, don’t expect the visual flair of his earlier films.

"The We and the I" opens at the UICA on Friday, April 26 with showtimes at 3:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Visit the UICA website for more details.

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