By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 22, 2012 at 2:45PM
It's been nine years since the last feature film from Bernardo Bertolucci, and for a moment there, it looked like "The Dreamers" would be the final effort from the currently wheelchair-bound filmmaker. And while we're glad he's re-energized and back to making movies, unfortunately, "Me And You" will be remembered as nothing more than a middling effort at best. A limp and lukewarm film about addiction and the relationships between parents and children, and brothers and sisters, Bertolucci's first entirely Italian-language film in a couple of decades doesn't build to anything of consequence, offering an insubstantial drama that mostly feels incomplete.
Your endurance will be tested by the movie's overly-long opening stretch, spent with the 14 year old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori). We first meet him during a standoffish session with a psychologist, and follow that by watching him in school, learning enough to know that he's considered an outsider by his classmates. Obsessively fussed over by his mother, Lorenzo is looking for his own space and time to do some thinking. So instead of attending an upcoming class ski trip, he uses it as a cover to spend the week alone in the largely unused storage space/basement where he lives, bringing with him enough supplies to last seven days. With no fellow students, therapist or mother to look over him and judge, he's got it made in the shade...
...that is, until his 25 year-old half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) shows up. Breezing in looking like a supermodel, Lorenzo is both surprised and annoyed by the appearance of this familial relation (they share the same father), from whom he's been estranged for quite a few years. Olivia talks Lorenzo into letting her stay with him, but it isn't long before the real reason she has returned is revealed. She's a junkie, and she's hoping to clean herself up cold turkey, in order to satisfy her end of a deal she made to a friend, who promises to take her out to his rural farm, but only if she's off drugs. So the two semi-related siblings begin a few days of bonding and bickering which will wind up changing each of them (or in this case, mildly change them.)
The main problem with 'Me And You' is that these characters exist without context, so it's hard to get too invested into their struggles. Lorenzo more-or-less seems to have the same issues as any other adolescent teen who is misunderstood by his or her parents, while for Olivia, the reasons for breaking with the family remain somewhat mysterious, though there is a suggestion that she was sexually abused by her father. But as intriguing as those plot strands may be, the only real tension is whether or not the pair will be discovered, or if Olivia will kick her habit. That's about it. Even the initial patch of Lorenzo being interrupted by an interloper into his dedicated plan of solitude is resolved fairly quickly.
Presumably, the film is meant to chronicle what each have learned about themselves during their sabbatical from the world in the basement, but it's hard to know exactly what that is. A fairly random soundtrack tries to overlay the emotional cues we're supposed to be feeling with "Boys Don't Cry" by The Cure, "Rebellion (Lies)" from Arcade Fire and bizarrely, two versions -- one Italian and one English -- of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" are featured. But even these shorthand attempts, as clumsy as they are, not only leave too much open, but perhaps indicate there's not that much to uncover in the first place.
Bertolucci directs not with the vigor of a man making a long-awaited return to fimmaking, but of a craftsman cranking out a product with indifference. Both Antinori and particularly Falco keep the thankfully brief "Me And You" moving, but their director mostly keeps them in one location with not much to do, with a couple of moments added to break up the claustrophobia. A minor effort at best, and disappointingly lacking a sense of energy or intent, "Me And You" is Bertolucci exercising his filmmaking muscles, but not flexing them. [C-]