If you have seen “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” writer-director-artist Miranda July’s hilarious and poignant 2005 feature, you will instantly recognize the above symbol, which has entered the alternative zeitgeist, become a popular tattoo, and taken a cultural life of its own since then. But there is a lot more to July’s touching portrayal of humans yearning for affirmation and intimacy than the catchiest hook of the film—a collection of interconnected vignettes both shocking and delicate. With her filmmaking debut, July pondered what it means for people to seek validation in each other, and what their efforts in this quest might look like.
Now, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and its prolific creator have surpassed another distinct milestone, with the film recently joining the Criterion Collection, accompanied by special edition release featuring various content that will appeal to the cross-disciplinary artist’s fans: new documentaries on July’s artistic beginnings and artwork she created for an interfaith charity shop, interviews, scenes from the 2003 Sundance Directors Lab (where July workshopped her debut), select short films and so on.
We recently talked to July about “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” being an artist in the time of a pandemic, and her creative process.
What’s your routine been like during this pandemic, both as an artist and citizen?
About half the time I’m teaching second grade to my child, so that’s new. You realize that you didn’t really know all the little tiny details of your child’s learning process. Now it’s going to seem weird, whenever he goes back to school, to just send him off. Obviously, they know what they’re doing more than I do, but I’m retraining him on how he makes his A’s. You know what I mean? The nitty-gritty of it, I wasn’t this focused on, for better or worse.
It’s probably not that helpful to have your mom looking over your shoulder and telling you how to make your A’s. I don’t know. We’ll find out, for this entire generation of children, what this did to them. It’s mixed. Obviously, to a certain degree, there’s some sort of ideal of engagement that’s happening on a family-level, but then he hasn’t seen another child in more than six weeks. That doesn’t seem healthy.
It sounds like the makings of a movie—you have taken accidental ownership of a project and then it’s hard to part with it.
Right. I feel like I’m the kind of person who, given [the] opportunity to get Stockholm Syndrome, [would] fall in love with her jailer; [that] is right up my alley. The whole re-entry thing… Well, especially because there’s no plan, certainly not in this country. There’s nothing even resembling a cure or even basic understanding of the virus, I feel like. It changes every week and frankly it gets worse, you know? It’s a complete catch-22. I feel like we were all just in such shock initially and scared that we went along with it. It’s now like, “Wait, hold on a sec.” To some people, [the repercussions] were immediately obvious. They couldn’t pay their rent immediately. But in a larger sense, [we are realizing], “Oh yeah, this also isn’t going to work.” So now I’m just like, “This is doing nothing, which is just talking randomly about it [and we all do it].”
It’s impossible to watch a movie these days and not find present-day relevance, even in a handshake. This happened to me on such a deep level when I was revisiting “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” It’s a film about intimacy and the connections we make. I kept thinking how that physical ecosystem all of a sudden shrunk.
Yeah, it really is because it’s now all online. The idea [of this movie] is that intimacy is hard anyways. It’s hard to figure out. It’s hard between the adult, consenting members of that movie. Me and John Hawkes, we’re having a hard time of it. The hopeful spin on that movie is that certain kinds of connections are possible that actually wouldn’t be possible in the “real world.” Now, of course, the real world is the digital world, this parallel, alternative space, and we don’t really know what’s going on in there. It’s going to be interesting to find out how we change. As far as sex and intimacy, it’s too early to tell.
Going back to January of this year now and thinking about “Kajillionaire” in these terms too, which I saw at Sundance, I have been thinking, “Oh, Old Dolio [Evan Rachel Wood] and Melanie [Gina Rodriguez]—they wouldn’t have had that connection or moment today.”
Right. I think about that scene too. There’s something in that movie about someone breaking free, you know? I think there’s a kind of basic savoring of the world and the simple pleasures that might feel good. I don’t know when it’s coming out.
Since we’re talking about the Criterion release specifically, can we go to the beginnings of “Me and You and Everyone We Know?” It was your first feature film, and I was wondering if you initially started thinking about it in vignettes or if you had the overarching story in mind first, before breaking it down to smaller pieces.
Until that point, I’d only made short films. I’d made a film called “Nest of Tens” that’s actually on the Criterion release. It was a movie about children and adults, and has some unusual, quasi-sexual connections that were surprising. It also had these interweaving storylines. I thought, “Hmm, well, it seems hard to just write single-ethic story that’s worthy of a feature film. I think I could do this.” As someone who’d only made short movies, it seemed like maybe that would be easier to have these intertwined stories.
Now, looking back, I’m like, “What? That’s so hard.” It was, to get the balance just right and to make them all connect. I think I say this in my conversation with Lena Dunham on the disc, that I was visiting a friend in Chicago and I was taking the L train to her. I had the idea of all the storylines on that one ride, which was 20 minutes or something. Half an hour at the most. Obviously, they weren’t fleshed out, I have somewhere in my journal… In some of them, two characters collapse into one. In the Sundance Lab scenes that are on the disc, you can see I’m playing Christine. My video artist character is gay and is in love with her friend. Then there was supposed to be another character, a woman, who worked at the make-up counter at the department store who fell in love with John Hawkes.
I think, at a certain point, I realized like, “Oh, it’s just too many, two different romances like that. I knew I really liked the John Hawkes character. Whereas, the woman that I had fell in love and that my character fell in love with, wasn’t really very fleshed out, didn’t really have any other story besides my love for her. So I just cut her. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, but, at the same time, I didn’t over-think it because I didn’t know how wrong things could go yet. I remember when I saw reviews of the movie for the first time, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would be reviewed. My focus was entirely on the premiere, it playing in theaters and what people thought of it. I didn’t really have any experience with stuff being reviewed, deemed good or bad. You only get that once, that sense of freedom, and then you’re forever trying to create it within yourself.