March 5, 2012

Justify My Netflix: You and I

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

You and I

Today's movie: You and I, 2012 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because despite looking like the Russian version of an Olson Twins movie, I figured that this story of a rural teenager who eventually writes a hit song for bubblegum supergroup t.A.T.u. would at the very least have a lot of great location shots of both Moscow and the surrounding countryside, so stuck it in my queue for pretty much no other reason.

The reality: Surprisingly riveting! And that's because this turns out to not be a simple movie about empty teen pop stars at all (although make no mistake, it features plenty of singing and dancing from empty teen pop stars), but rather an astute and surprisingly dark look at the dysfunctional relationship that post-Soviet Russian youth have with throwaway American popular culture, directed by no less than British art-house veteran and multiple Oscar nominee Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission), based on an experimental novel written entirely as phone text messages by Aleksey Mitrofanov, an economic bureaucrat in the Russian government who also happens to have managed several popular boy bands in the 1990s (and if that doesn't illuminate the inherent surrealism of the Russian music industry, I don't know what does). Featuring a cameo by t.A.T.u. at the very end but not really a movie about them, this instead concerns a peasant girl in a dying village (played ironically by American actress Mischa Barton) who much like our hero in the great immigrant novel Petropolis realizes that if she doesn't get out of her town soon by any means necessary (prostitution, modeling career, mafia girlfriend, whatever), she will be doomed to a provincial life as the fat baby-pooping wife of one of the local frat boys; it's at this point that she makes a friend through a t.A.T.u. fan message board with a bored American latchkey teen in Moscow (played by fellow American Shantel VanSanten of One Tree Hill), who invites her to a weekend in the big city so they can attend the concert of their favorite band.

It's here, then, where the two start falling down a rabbithole that gets darker and darker by the hour; beginning the weekend by recording a YouTube video of a song co-written by the two of them, the plot is basically framed around the act of t.A.T.u.'s manager catching the song through a friend and trying to find the girls so he can purchase its rights, while the girls themselves stumble into an ever-widening adventure of hard drugs, casual lesbianism, wandering the dark corners of late-night Moscow, shacking up at the McMansion of a twentysomething record producer whose rich daddy is financing a career for him (played brilliantly by a pre-famous Anton Yelchin), and eventually roaming the countryside again in tow with a burnt-out British music executive and the closeted Justin Timberlake stand-in who is currently his only client. And really, to understand the tone and message this movie is going for, all you have to do is look at a throwaway line that one of these characters mentions at a certain point, about how the dream for all these people is to eventually become a conspicuous-consumerist American pop star -- "You know," the person says, "like Bruce Springsteen, or David Hasselhoff." The fact that this line is given without even the slightest trace of irony says everything you need to know about why these people worship such empty bands and lifestyles; that for tens of millions of Russian youth, it has nothing to do with the actual quality of any of these musicians, but rather the over-the-top fantasies of middle-class comfort they represent, the rhinestone-covered cellphones and gas-guzzling SUVs that people will literally kill for in a place of such dire hardship and undetermined fate like 2000s Russia. And that's really what this movie is about, away from the actual scenes of singing and dancing by the pop stars in question, is the kind of dark desperation that comes with all these no-hope Russian youth forever hanging around the edges of such a scene, more than happy to snort or f-ck whatever they need simply to avoid a life of crushing poverty and lack of healthcare.

Granted, perhaps I'm building this film up a little more than it deserves (it's still ultimately a story about high-school girls and boy bands, after all), and you should absolutely keep your expectations as low as you can if you choose to watch it yourself; but I have to admit, I find something incredibly charming about any movie that features a scene of a frazzled, wasted, middle-aged British hipster music executive with a bad bleach job, on the boat of a bunch of obese Russian gangsters in the middle of the rural countryside, who have essentially kidnapped him so that he'll produce an album by one of the mobster's talentless sons, screaming at the top of his lungs to the assembled criminals, "I discovered Happy Mondays, darlings, SO F-CK OFF!" before then promptly passing out on the boat's deck. If you can appreciate such scenes yourself, then You and I might turn out to be one of the more surprisingly enjoyable movie experiences you'll have this year.

Strangest piece of trivia: Although just now being released in America, the film actually premiered at Cannes back in 2008, with a production that stretches all the way back to 2006.

Worth your time? Yes, but only for those who can get into the right spirit

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:41 PM, March 5, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |