The kind of movie you either will like or you won't. I liked it quite a bit for what Michel Gondry was experimenting with, which was a cinema that is both very real and yet fantastic at the same time; when the kids tell their stories, be they funny, dramatic, sad, strange, it carries those qualities Gondry can bring to elevate the material through his grungy-magical (is that a term? I just made it up so there) aesthetic. When we see the teenagers driving a beat-up old car, it's shot to look a little warped as if from a camera phone, but not just any phone.
This isn't reality TV. It's writing and filmmaking and while you won't get stellar acting across the board from these non-professionals, all acting under their own names, some of them are quite good and are able to bring the text to life. It's almost like Speed meets My Dinner with Andre, if that makes sense - you're stuck on this bus for the long haul, and it'll be suspenseful... there will also be a lot of talk, and buffoonery, and, really, genuine emotion at this turning point of the end of a school year with some betrayals and bewilderment going around.
And while the first two-thirds are mostly a lot of fun, the final third, when the bus crowd thins out, becomes even more interesting than it was before when it focuses on Michael and Teresa, and another kid who we haven't seen much of (wrapped up in a comic-book and in headphones), and that scene in particular is great for these guys having (or thinking they have) grown up just on this bus ride alone. It's a heart-to-heart scene that shows after all of the bluster and big talk from the group- in-the-back, being down to earth is the tough part and what makes kids into the outcasts and bullies and bystanders and so on.
It's sometimes rambling, sometimes unfocused, but that too is part of the charm. And, in a sense, this becomes Gondry's most surprising feature in the sense that he isn't with star-power team-ups (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Gael Garcia Bernal, Seth Rogen, etc), or with his large grab-bag of surreal/magic-fiction camera and mis-en-scene tricks. Not to say there aren't exceptions - at one point, if I'm not mistaken, Jesus comes on to the bus to break up what could be an escalation-cum- fight on the bus - but it's really just a bunch of slices of life strung together, maybe not too unlike Spike Lee's Get on the Bus but without the baggage of the Million-Man-March message. What is it like to be a teenager, not just in the Bronx but anywhere? Teenagers especially would do well to watch a movie like this, which paints a more captivating and, for me at least, entertaining portrait of life than an MTV show could do. It doesn't stop for a chance to be funny, sometimes with ridiculous results, but its got a big heart and that's what is always wonderful about this director.
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