by Greg Muskewitz
Never more than before this year have I tried so hard to avoid previews, whether the previews be on television or in the theaters, so as not to learn too much about the movie and have the most interesting and "surprise" moments spoiled. Shooing them away on TV is easy --simply change the channel, and if the remote is not within a reachable radius, I close my eyes, plug my ears and hum really loudly for the next 30-seconds. Luckily, during most press screenings, we are not burdened with trailers, but if there are, I generally try to talk to my guest as a diversion. I asked my mentor Duncan Shepherd how he has dealt with this dilemma, having been a critic for 30-plus years. His answer was similar to mine with TV (and I must mention that I hardly have a chance to watch much television these days), but he said that what previews are shown before the movie, he generally forgets by the time the movie is screened. Unfortunately I don't forget. But now over-revelatory give-aways are thrown away on something as plain as the movie's poster.Case-in-point: "Me, You, Them" (my commas). On my way walking into the theater, knowing nothing about the movie I was going to see, aside from that it was from Brazil, I saw the poster in the lobby advertising its "Coming Soon" status. The poster featured a picture of Regina Casť and Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, and broken down into three fragments, roughly paraphrased, said "Four children; three husbands; one woman."
"...a sub-tepid melodrama..."
That piqued my interest; I still had no idea what the movie was going to be about, but my already-forming preconception told me that it would involve these four children, and those three husbands of hers. As "Me, You, Them" opens, Darlene (Casť) is pregnant and shortly expecting. She disappears, or leaves town, and with nothing to judge the passage of time by, except for that she's had the baby, when she returns to the town, her mother had just passed away. An old but seemingly generous old codger, Osias (Lima Duarte) offers to marry her, and then his house will be hers. But things don't proceed as mellifluously as Darlene might have hoped, because once she accepts his offer, she becomes "his possession," what is hers is his, and so the house now reverts back to his ownership, while she is expected to cook, clean and work while he lays around in his hammock.
A great deal of running time passes before a black laborer arrives, briefly, and our assumption of a fling is confirmed when she has a very dark-skinned son. Osias knows it is not his, but pretends not to notice. Darlene's oppression is increased, and so she temporarily runs away to bring her first born son to live and learn by his real father.
Up next is Zezinho (StÍnio Garcia), Osias' cousin. Darlene is very sweet on him, and he returns that treatment to her. The plot, still only churning, then --and still consuming much of the running-time-- brings on her next pregnancy. This time, Osias doesn't pretend not to notice (the boy has Zezinho's blue eyes and blonde hair), but he continues to allow him to live there. To snip away the developless episodes, the fourth and final man she "has" is a newbie field-worker, like herself. There is no surprise when she becomes pregnant with his son, but the jeu played here is by Osias, who condones their affair, to give Zezinho a taste of what it is like. She threatens to run away with the field-worker, Ciro (Vasconcelos), so instead, Osias and Zezinho build an additional room to the house to make it all one big family. And then the end!
And then the end? But what about the ensuing misadventures of the family? But what about the relationships each of these people have with one-another? But what about how this lifestyle is viewed from those in the community? But what about how it's like for these children to be raised in such a high multitude of irregularity?
The entirety of "Me, You, Them" is devoted to only the birth of these kids. That would not be so bad if there was an interesting story surrounding it, but that was not an option offered. Director Andrucha Waddington avoids any type of focus throughout "Me, You, Them," because he never introduces any ideas or revelations necessary to keep us interested in what is happening. So what that Darlene is promiscuous and has four children out of wedlock? This is no new idea, but is it really that hard to come up with a story to tell it with?
Waddington states in the press notes that he had read about a similar story, and that this was sort of inspired by it (written by Elena Soarez), but I'm sure that there had to be more happening during these events. Her unfaithfulness was understood by her situation, though why she stayed with Osias is a mystery, but if you are going to give us a story such as this, fill us in and make us privy to the stuff going on behind the doors. Motivation is a major key to a movie like "Me, You, Them" because it is the driving force behind it. But this lacks all forms of motivation, and it plays out like a badly heavy redaction. There are so many events missing and empty lacunas, it is far more desirable to imagine what happened in the interim that was neglected to be told.
In that sense, "Me, You, Them" reminded me of "Where the Heart Is": taking place over five years without much indication of time passing without the verbal acknowledgement, or a sudden change of age in one of the children. (In a more offbeat way, "Me, You, Them" was also similar insofar as every time we saw Ashley Judd's character, she was pregnant, and so was Regina Case's.) But unlike "Where the Heart Is," this had no distractions or sidebar interests added to mollify our growing ennui. No Natalie Portman, no quirky humor, no advancing storyline. Just a stagnant, inactive concept. "Me, You, Them" took so long to tell, and with nothing original or unique occurring along the way, and all these large and unexplained gaps throughout, it ends in the same place it originated: nowhere.
All that "Me, You, Them" amounts to is a sub-tepid melodrama. The characters cease to interest us, the reasoning behind their actions are unexplained and undeveloped, and there is no emphasis in its verism or fantasy, depending on how you view the situation. And if the whole movie revolves around the pregnancies and arrival of her children, don't spoil it all by saying so on the poster. By doing so, it left nothing to absorb, enjoy, or experience from the ordeal. It comes off as a tamed, dull documentary, heavily edited, of one of the themes of a Jerry Springer show. I am not saying we need to weigh it down with sex, violence and low-brow humor, but tell us a story, show us what it really was like! Because all this turns into is an exercise in boredom, and a 107-minute movie should not feel like a 170-minute one.
http://www.landmark-theatres.comFinal Verdict: F+.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4930&reviewer=172
originally posted: 02/28/01 21:18:00