THE WE AND THE I (Michel Gondry). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (May 17). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Rowdy high school kids from the Bronx board a city bus after the last day of school. They take over the scene, subjecting unfortunate passengers (and us) to their unrelenting cruelty, lewd sexuality and, occasionally, their misfit charms.
At its worst, The We and The I seems like Michel Gondry is making his Kevin Smith film, a slice-of-life (and inexplicably long) bus ride where some over-the-top oddities and crass humour intrude upon reality à la Clerks.
At its best, and this is more often the case, Gondry channels Spike Lee. His vibrant exploration of class, culture and youth digs deep into who these kids are while pondering what they may become after that bus finishes its route. All the while, he captures that raw, bustling energy of the inner city.
Gondry gets a whole lot of mileage out of an exceptional cast of actual Bronx students, from Jonathan Ortiz's ragweed bully, who is all bravado with little bite, to Laidychen Carrasco's diva, who can't stop thinking about who to invite to her sweet 16, despite all the drama happening a few rows behind her. Gondry savours their naturalistic performances, giving them plenty of room to wile out.
He also throws in a few of his own absurdist flourishes, but those interludes never feel out of place. Gondry knows how to complement his subject, like a DJ scratching a record. He puts his own touches to the sound of the Bronx while staying true to its beat.