Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Brodie, Teresa Lynn, Laidychen Carrasco, Raymond Delgado, Jonathan Ortiz, Jonathan Worrell, Alex Barrios, Meghan Niomi Murphy, Raymond Rios, Brandon Diaz, Elijah Canada, Manuel Rivera, Jacobchen Carrasco, Mia Lobo
Written by: Michel Gondry, Paul Proch and Jeff Grimshaw
Directed by: Michel Gondry
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 103
Date: 22/03/2013

The We and the I (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dual Bus

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Over the course of his fascinating career, the former music video genius Michel Gondry has turned in several terrific features, though realism has never been his primary interest. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind, and even The Green Hornet have been squarely rooted in their fantasy worlds. Only his documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party came anywhere close to a real event.

So his new fact/fiction experiment The We and the I comes as something of a surprise. Gondry worked with a group of teenagers from a community center in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, and cooked up his scenario. The entire movie takes place during a bus ride home on the last day of school.

The teens are loud, and full of energy both good and bad. There are bullies and lovers and artistic types that wish to be left alone. Several little dramas begin unfolding. A girl has been dumped. A boy has written an embarrassing poem. An accidental love triangle develops. The nature of a friendship is challenged. Some of these stories are left unfinished as the characters get off the bus at their respective stops, never to return. The longer the ride goes on, the darker it gets outside, and the fewer characters remain. The mood turns less rambunctious and more introspective.

Cell phones and social media play an important part as well. A humorous video is shared, or, tellingly, not shared. Then, eventually, it's revealed that the video is not so humorous after all. It turns out that we simply did not know the entire story behind it, just as we don't -- and will never -- know the real stories behind any of these kids.

Literal critics will complain about the awkward, amateurish performances delivered by some of these teens. And it's true. They're not professionally trained, and they probably didn't know what they were in for when they committed to shooting an entire 103-minute movie on a bus. But at the same time, no actor could have crawled inside their skins and understood them as well as the actual teens do.

The hard part is trying to understand these teens as an outsider, or an older person. They're annoying and intimidating as the film begins, but as it goes on, flickers of recognition begin to fire. Surely we all remember these emotions from high school, and surely these teens are not all that different from teens of other generations. Gondry's film is like a huge community, alive and -- despite a layer of protective swagger -- full of sympathy and love.