Somewhere along the spectrum between the teenage bonding of “The Breakfast Club” and the teenage bacchanal of “Kids” lies “The We and the I.” It’s the latest from French director Michel Gondry, who has directed tightly scripted films (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) as well as totally unscripted work (the concert film “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”). His newest also falls somewhere between those poles.
Set on the last afternoon of high school for a bunch of Bronx teens, it follows them on their raucous ride home on a New York bus, where most of the action unfolds. You can’t accuse the movie of trying to sentimentalize these kids. In the opening minutes, they blister each other with insults, steal from little children unlucky enough to get in their way, and intimidate adult riders on the bus with absolutely zero respect.
Things settle down a little as the long ride takes them through the hardscrabble streets of the Bronx. When they’re not trash-talking one another, they’re texting, sexting and simultaneously watching on their phones a video loop of a luckless classmate taking a pratfall on a slippery floor.
In a cast of more than a dozen key players, the movie focuses somewhat on Teresa (Teresa Lynn), who has skipped school for three weeks and turned up on the final day wearing a cheap blond wig. (Don’t worry, the back story will be told.) There’s also her longtime friend-antagonist Michael (Michael Brodie), who spends most of the ride hanging tough with his best delinquent pals. Best friends Laidychen (Laidychen Carrasco) and Niomi (Meghan Murphy) fuss over the guest list for a sweet 16 party. And there’s a subplot involving two guys (Brandon Diaz, Luis Figueroa) on the verge of breaking up; that they’re openly gay is seen, refreshingly, by their classmates as no big deal.
“The We and the I” supplements the kids’ rude, frank talk with snippets of their fantasy lives, and glimpses of guilty secrets they’re trying to hide. What does it all add up to? Well, unfortunately, more noise than insight. After the chaotic, open-ended energy of most of the movie, the script (by director Gondry and two others) hammers together a handful of dramatic final beats that would probably feel forced even if the young actors were talented enough to make them seem natural.
In the end, “The We and the I” feels like something that was more fun to make than it is to watch. You can admire the experiment, and the way Gondry managed to orchestrate some coherence out of the tumult of these hormone-driven teenagers (who, sadly, prove too often that they’re not professional actors). But they too often come off as more thuggish than spirited. Instead of getting inspired by their boundless energy, it’s easy to feel depressed by how poorly they channel it.
“The We and the I.” With Michael Brodie, Teresa Lynn. Directed by Michel Gondry. Unrated. 103 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.