FIRST, LET'S COMPARE the title of Michel Gondry's new and absolutely wonderful film The We and the I to the title of Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life. The first title tells us that the movie is going to be about something substantial: human sociality, which is structured exactly by the dialect between the one and the many, singular and the multiple. The second title tells us we are in for a bunch of mumbo jumbo—meaning, we know what we are going to see is not a work of sociology but the kind of mysticism that Nietzsche once described as mudding the pond so that it looks deep and mysterious.
The We and the I—which is entirely set on a Bronx public bus that's mostly occupied by teenagers who have just completed their last day of school—only has one moment of magic. It happens like this: From the bus, the teenagers see a beautiful woman in a flowery dress cycling down a Bronx sidewalk. Her hair is flowing in the wind. The students are mesmerized by her. But then one young man walks to the window, opens it, and screams something like: "I like your big tits!" The spell is broken and the teenager is admonished. "Why did you do that, man? I was connecting with her," one teenager complains.
The We and I is not so much about a group of teenagers but the constantly shifting bonds between these teenagers. Some bonds are strong, others are weak; some are ending, others are becoming; some are sexually charged, others are all about power. As the bus moves through the Bronx, we get a sense of the creative, ethnically mixed energy of the city itself. What comes out of all this mixing is a mode and way of being that is utterly urban. The We and the I is the best film Michel Gondry has made since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the most important film about teens since Kids.