About ten minutes into Miranda July’s remarkable debut feature, a man and his young daughter have just bought a goldfish. As they take off in their SUV, however, the man has absent-mindedly left the fish (in a tiny plastic baggie full of water) on top of the vehicle. On the highway, the film’s central character, Christine (July) notices this and conspires with her co-passenger to do what they can with their car to impossibly save this fish. The scene plays like something out of a silent-era slapstick short worthy of Chaplin and Keaton, only tinged with melancholy. Eventually, Christine realizes the brutal limitations of this small crisis, but her co-passenger assures her, “Well, at least we’re all in this together.”

ME AND YOU… takes this phrase to heart as it casts a gaze on about a dozen characters in a nondescript California town. All of them are lonely to some degree, attempting to make connections and find friendship, solace, and even love in each other’s company. If this were a big budget studio picture, these acts would be made to seem simple, unchallenging. Conflicts would arise, but characters would logically work their way through them and everyone would feel fulfilled by the final credits. To an extent, this does happen for a few people, but July’s more interested in exploring the messy, topsy-turvy, true-to-life ways in which they get there.

At the head of this ensemble are Christine and Richard (John Hawkes). Christine is an eccentric, impulsive performance artist whose work consists of her imagining and recording conversations belonging to people in still photographs. She also works for ElderCab, a geriatric transport service. When she takes her client Michael (Hector Elias) shopping, she meets Richard (John Hawkes), a department store shoe salesman who has recently separated from his wife. After a second trip to the store, Christine meets up with Richard as he’s walking to his car. After another block, they’ll need to head off in opposite directions to reach their vehicles. Bashfully grasping to make conversation with someone she really likes, she compares the walk to the lifespan of a relationship, and how it will end when they inevitably have to go their separate ways. The sequence is intricate and surprising, full of deftly shifting tones and pregnant but important pauses. It almost seems like something out of a novel, until in a startling, heartbreaking turn, one of them acknowledges that it is, and tells the other that life really isn't this simple.

Richard has two sons: teenaged Peter (Miles Thompson) and younger Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), who divide their time between their mother’s home and their father’s new, cramped apartment. Without them, ME AND YOU… might seem more ordinary—just another indie romantic comedy. But July either has a knack for getting natural performances out of her child actors or finding particularly (and refreshingly) genuine ones: especially Ratcliff, possibly the most unaffected indie kid actor since Raven Goodwin (LOVELY AND AMAZING).

As Peter and Robby spend time at their father’s chatting on the internet or walking to and from school, we get to know the rest of the film’s ensemble: Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend), two of Peter’s classmates who develop an obsession with Richard’s adult neighbor and co-worker, Andrew (Brad William Henke), who is sweet-natured but perhaps too willing to take chances; and Sylvie, a quiet ten-year-old neighbor girl with a design for life and an active, touching imagination. There’s also Nancy (Tracy Wright), a gallery curator who is less assured than she initially seems; she also has links to more than one of the film’s other characters.

Some of these subplots flower to conclusive connections; others are left somewhat unresolved, revealing something about that person’s behavior and not much more. But July loves all of her characters: even Heather and Rebecca, arguably the least sympathetic, are drawn with much more depth and humaneness than their “roles” in the narrative would suggest. At times July (herself a performance artist) risks being overly precious or uncomfortably obscure, but when a connection or two are finally made near the end, they suddenly, excitingly feel earned and almost emotionally overwhelming.

ME AND YOU… is a primarily a comedy, laced with offbeat humor and a vision of life depicted in all of its glorious absurdity. As comedies go, however, it’s uncommonly reflective and delicate. July’s carefully and lovingly constructed world is one where an unanticipated phone call (with a voice saying the word “macaroni” and hanging up) is incredibly profound. It’s a world where hopes, desires and dreams continually butt heads with reason and actualities, but in the end, you get a sense that there’s room for both sides. In fact, any world would seem incomplete without both. Early in the film, Richard says to Andrew, “I know I’m ready for great things to happen to me.” By evidence of this delightful, powerful film, July's already there.