Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Three ingredients for a coming-of-age effort steeped in feelings.
September 07, 2015
Thanks to its not-so-inventive title, there's no need to worry about who the main players in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are. There's the 'me' of the moniker, i.e. movie-loving high schooler Greg (Thomas Mann). There's his classmate and filmmaking partner-in-crime, Earl (RJ Cyler), who he describes as a colleague rather than a buddy. And then there's the unwell Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who Greg's mother forces him to befriend upon hearing that she has cancer.
If you think it all sounds like a recipe for a coming-of-age effort steeped in feelings, peppered with pop culture references and always working towards everyone learning something, well, you'd be right. And the movie is as contrived and cliched as it sounds, even if it does strive to conjure up several layers of emotions. It won the audience award at both the Sundance and the Sydney film festivals — as well as the grand jury prize at the former — so it seems to be working on someone.
Greg prides himself on neither fitting in nor standing out, which also means he doesn't really connect with anyone. Spending time with Rachel, rather awkwardly at first, threatens to change that. His world opens as hers starts to end, and for once, he can't avoid the consequences of actually caring about something. So, he channels his efforts into working with Earl on their latest short film following a series of comic recreations of classics, with previous efforts including Senior Citizen Cane and The 400 Bros.
Movies about movie buffs, which are consequently littered with knowing nods and sly winks to movies gone by, can make for painful viewing for even the most avid cinephiles in the audience. Surprisingly, the affection for the medium that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl shows is actually among its most genuine and least calculated elements. Indeed, filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon played in similar territory with his previous effort, the remake/update/next instalment that was horror offering The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Both features share a winning way of making a love of movies part of their celluloid (or digital, as is more likely these days) fabric.
Sadly, the alternating slivers of authenticity, ingenuity and subtlety evident in the cinema shout-outs are absent when it comes to the main event of chronicling the impact Rachel's circumstances have upon Greg — and almost as an afterthought, upon the scarcely used sidekick Earl's character clearly is, too. Stereotypical subplots abound as much as untraditional camera angles, yet all seem as flimsy and ill-deployed as the high-profile supporting cast (with Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal among the actors briefly sighted).
It should all add up to more, especially when you consider that the script is written by Jesse Andrews, who penned the bestselling young adult book of the same name that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl adapts for the screen. Alas, trying too hard to convey both quirkiness and sentiment, including in the performances, just doesn't hit the mark the film is clearly aiming for.