Michel Gondry’s London Film Festival select The We and the I (2012) is the product of a recent after-school program the French filmmaker coordinated, taking the lessons learnt and ideas that were formed from these workshops to create a fascinatingly naturalistic insight into the lives of a varied cross section of Brooklyn teenagers. Set almost entirely within the confines of a school bus undertaking its final route of the academic term, Gondry’s film is a contemporary chamber piece polluted with teenage mannerisms and colloquial slang.
The kids on this bus represent the teen social hierarchy, presenting a surprisingly diverse cross section of characters. From the ‘senior’ royalty of the back row to the dejected high school serfs and outcasts of the rest of the bus, The We and the I presents its audience with a microcosm of the classroom within the claustrophobic confines of a Brooklyn bus. There are still the surreal touches we’ve come to expect from Gondry, yet his latest effort focuses far more intently of presenting a naturalistic portrait of teenage life, thrusting us thoroughly into this motorised school-yard.
The We and the I’s youth-driven dialogue may deter some audience members, however each seemingly unimportant conversation or trashy aside eventually proves to be the building blocks of a much bigger picture. Your own capacity to withstand this barrage of juvenile slang will dictate your overall enjoyment, as too does your ability to see past the initial cruelty on show, Including such delightfully droll lines as “You’re like two pounds of baloney crammed into a one pound bag” and the inventively crass use of a banana pudding pot to mimic an ejaculation.
The film’s generic 90s hip-hop soundtrack gives the action a contagious rhythm which, combined with dialogue almost as vibrant as the luminous shades that have become commonplace in Gondry’s films The We and the I thankfully manages to maintain it energetic exuberance throughout the entirety of this lengthy bus journey. As the trip progresses each student appears to learn more than they clearly have all term with each passenger arriving at their stop at the exact point they’ve found some kind of enlightenment – quite literally a rites-of-passage journey.
As to be expected from an improvised piece, the standard of acting varies from the impressively naturalistic to the wooden and stunted. Gondry’s The We and the I is a bumpy journey that whilst initially appearing a little nauseating is well worth staying on board with until the end of the route – a sharp, if not overly stylised, examination of contemporary teenage culture.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.