Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Teen-agers, sometimes at their worst

For the longest time, I found myself wondering why I was watching Michel Gondry's The We and the I, a boisterous look at a group of rude and rowdy Bronx teen-agers riding a bus home from school. In one sense, Gondry has gone an amazing job; his movie makes you feel as if you're actually on a bus with kids who were busy bullying one another, trading insults and disrespecting any adult who has the misfortune of wandering into their midst. That's the issue: You'll have to endure a fair amount of abuse before these youngsters begin to drop their guards and expose some humanity. Gondry, whose movies (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) usually include more playful helpings of artifice, plays things mostly straight in what sometimes looks like a sociological exercise about the way teens behave when the only authority figure in sight is a bus driver. The title suggests what Gondry is after, a lively examination of the tensions between individual and group imperatives, a particularly strong subject with teen-agers who often experience intense peer pressure. Gondry's actors -- recruited from The Point, a community center in the Bronx -- do a good job of acting naturally in an extended bus ride through the South Bronx. As the unnaturally long ride evolves, Gondry defines the various individuals and cliques that create laughs, tensions and a bit of empathy, particularly for those who are picked on. By the movie's end, Gondry brings his themes into sharp (even poignant) focus, but The We and the I can be difficult to take, mostly because Gondry refuses to shy away from the meanness that kids use to shield their vulnerability.

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