Me and You and Everyone We Know

The dialogue in “Me and You and Everyone We Know” has a wonderful, magical quality to it. People often talk to each other, even to strangers, in a way that falls somewhere between whimsical and philosophical, yet it never comes off as pretentious. Someone can say something as self-consciously clever as (upon removing a bandage), “My hand needs air. It needs to breathe. Let’s take my hand for a walk,” but in context, it seems like a perfectly ordinary thing to say.

Miranda July’s debut — she wrote and directed it and takes the lead role — is an impressive one, notable for its aura of introspection and humanity. While some of the content is reminiscent of Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness”), July holds her characters in higher regard than Solondz does, looking at them not as curious pawns in her agenda-laden endgame, but as real people, full of innocence and wonder.

Real people who are screwed up, that is. The film is set in the anonymous, unattractive neighborhoods of Los Angeles, focusing on several strangers who yearn to connect with someone. Christine (July) is an artist working in the mediums of photography and video, but for an income she runs a service driving elderly people around town. One of her regular passengers, a 70-year-old man, has recently fallen in love with a fellow senior at his retirement home. He tells Christine he wishes he’d met Ellen 50 years ago, then decides maybe it’s better this way. Maybe he needed those 50 years of mistakes and wrong turns to prepare him for a woman like Ellen.

We meet Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman and a lost soul, separated from his wife and living in a one-bedroom apartment. When his two sons are with him, they get the bedroom and he sleeps on the hide-a-bed. He meets Christine in the department store where he works, but both parties are so wounded and cautious, not just in love but in everyday life, that the developing of a romance seems unlikely.

His sons are the teenage Peter (Miles Thompson) and the 6-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), who spend their idle hours on the Internet, sometimes flirting with strangers in chat rooms. Robby’s too young to understand sex, of course, and Peter seems apathetic toward it. His encounter with two overly sexual teenage girls in the neighborhood seems to bore him as much as anything.

You should also know about a precocious young girl named Sylvie (Carlie Westerman) who, at 6 or 7, is already preparing her own hope chest (“or ‘trousseau’ in French,” she says), complete with linens, teapots and towel sets. She shows this to Peter, but when he sees her on the playground with friends and mentions it, she pretends not to know what he’s talking about.

There is a basic story line in all this, primarily dealing with Christine and Richard, but July is more interested in the characters as a group. How does a community function? How can we live among so many humans yet still be alone? No scene is extraneous, and everything contributes to the whole. You laugh now and then during the film, but mostly you smile — at the simple connections people make, at July’s seemingly guileless screenplay, at the general tone of wonderment and love for mankind.

B+ (1 hr., 30 min.; R, a few F-words, some sexual dialogue, a scene of strong sexuality involving teens.)