Michel Gondry's whimsical filmmaking approach isn't for everyone, but there's no disputing that the Academy Award winner has made a career out of pursuing difficult projects, ranging from "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to music videos for Björk.
But even by Gondry's lofty standards, "The We and the I," his new film opening tomorrow, is an unlikely achievement.
It's a naturalistic portrait of Bronx high schoolers riding a city bus home after the last day of the school year, filmed with real Bronx students who participated in workshops Gondry conducted at The Point, a community center in Hunts Point.
So what brought the filmmaker to the Bronx?
"I had a story I wanted to tell. The Point introduced me to these guys in a group very quick and I connected with them," Gondry says.
The filmmaker collaborated with the students on improv exercises, had them write in journals and recorded them speaking about their lives. Working with screenwriters Jeffrey Grimshaw and Paul Proch, Gondry took an outline and tailored it to reflect what they'd found.
"What I really liked about it was we didn't do casting," Gondry says. "We took everyone on board who wanted to be part of the workshop."
"My character wasn't based on me, it was actually based on my friend," says 19-year-old Teresa Lynn, one of the actors. "But it was still very, very relatable."
The teens on the bus are bullies and bullied, gay and straight, happy and sad, sure of themselves and confused about the future. During the course of a long ride home, they experience heartbreak and joy, rehash old hurts and experience new ones.
"The bus symbolizes a sense of freedom for everybody," says 21-year-old star Michael Brodie.