Skip to content

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) review

June 15, 2015

me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girl

 

written by: Jesse Andrews
produced by: Jeremy Dawson, Dan Fogelman and Steven M. Rales
directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: June 12, 2015

 

Each year there are films that receive heavy praise prior to their release date and some times that praise is unwarranted. Here’s a film from Fox Searchlight that falls in that unfortunate category and it doesn’t make me happy. I just couldn’t get on the increasing bandwagon for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”.

Having earned both the Grand Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance this year, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, has been declared a certified hit, a fresh one at that! Word-of-mouth has been buzzing since then and it even closed the Chicago Critics Film Festival. It seems like just about everyone likes – loves, even – this supposedly crowd-pleasing coming-of-age indie darling. Not me.

Writer Jesse Andrews (based on his novel) and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon try with seemingly all their might to offer a fresh take on the genre, but the end result is just too pretentious, repetitive and familiar.  There’s quirk and style throughout, but none of the characters come across as real people, they all feel as staged as the homemade films made by the “Me and Earl” characters. I actually felt odd that I didn’t respond to this hyped film the way I assumed I should or would, but I found it far-fetched, superficial and disingenuous, overall.

 

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-thomas-mann-600x281

 

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” feels like the kind of film I would generally (and genuinely) get behind, but there’s something about its quirk and manipulative approach that just rubbed me the wrong way.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a senior in high school, but has been ready to graduate since before it began, even though he has no solid post plans. In order to avoid making enemies or getting involved with any sort of drama, he has created a system that will keep him under the radar over the four years.  Greg’s done a good job at maintaining his anonymity amongst his peers, save for Earl (RJ Cyler), a local Pittsburgh teen he’s grown up watching cinema classics alongside, resulting in the pair creating their own homemade versions of them with cutesy names. For example, “My Dinner with Andre the Giant”, “Jurassic Skate Park”, “A Sockwork Orange”, “The 400 Bros”, “Senior Citizen Cane”, well, you get the idea (if not, the film hits you over the head with the ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ of it all).

None of their movies give us an opportunity to know more about these two teens, they’re just there to be clever and give Criterion fans a chuckle. The whole gimmick kind of wore out its welcome for me and I’m fully aware many viewers won’t be able to get enough of it. I found myself more curious/concerned about the portrayal of their friendship: Greg considers Earl a “co-worker”. Earl considers himself Greg’s friend. That would be problematic if I cared. Like the protagonist they offer, Gomez-Rejon and Andrews keep these characters at a distance, giving us more of a caricature than any genuine people to connect with.

 

17649005_max.JPG

 

The reputation Greg has carefully created and hidden from others is upended when his mother (Connie Britton) urges him to befriend his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke “Bates Motel”), who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia. It’s unclear why she’s determined to force this upon her son, instead of maybe suggesting or using subtlety like inviting Rachel and her family over for dinner. Out of obligation and annoyance by his mother’s insistence, Greg does eventually befriend Rachel. It’s awkward at first, since they both know Greg is pushed in Rachel’s direction, but soon enough his humor and demeanor manage to distract Rachel from her the unfortunate reality looming over her. It doesn’t take long for the film’s titular trio to form, as the three characters form a friendship over the course of the school year.

But the plutonic closeness developed between Greg and Rachel takes a toll on Greg, especially as her condition edges closer to death (not a spoiler, guys – it’s in the playful title). Greg has had to step out of his comfort zone – something he’d have to do eventually – to be there for Rachel, also letting his academic responsibilities fall to the wayside. As Rachel’s condition worsens due to chemotherapy, Greg and Earl’s friendship becomes contentious as they two try and make a surprise movie specifically for Rachel. In all this, Greg struggles with his identity as he tries to figure out who he wants to be and what lies in his future.

Watching “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” was an enjoyable enough experience, but immediately after it was finished, I just kind of shrugged and moved on. Since then, I’ve had plenty of discussions with folks who enjoyed it more than me and I found myself understanding their point of view (while not sharing it) and moving on. Still, I couldn’t quite figure out why exactly I didn’t like this film as much as everyone else and then I felt some validation when I learned that others shared my perspective (not that that’s needed). It could be because the filmmakers wouldn’t just allow personal connection and bond between Greg and Rachel to hold the film together. Instead, it’s more concerned with showing off quirky antics like Greg and Earl getting stoned, injecting superfluous levity to a story that doesn’t trust that the audience can handle the ups and downs with such heavy subject matter.

 

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-nick-offerman-thomas-mann-600x400

 

Real adult characters definitely cannot be found in the film. Greg’s robed father (Nick Offerman on cruise control) is established as a quirky foodie who has raised Greg to appreciate art house films of the 70s and 80s and, of course, Werner Herzog. He comes in and out of scenes just to say bizarre lines that go nowhere and only add to the film’s precious tone. In fact, that’s what just about all of the adults do. Mr. McCarthy (a miscast Jon Bernthal) is the token cool teacher that they boys can hang with, one who dispenses some appropriate words of wisdom. And then there’s Rachel’s mother (Molly Shannon channeling Mrs. Robinson), who is really quite hard to figure out. She initially comes across as an overbearing lush and maybe even a wanna-be cougar. As her daughter’s condition worsens, we do see a semblance of genuine emotion from her, but most of the time she’s kind of all over the place.

Now, that’s not to say these are bad actors – they’re not, of course. It comes down to how their characters are written. I realize that part of this is that we’re getting a look at these adults through the eyes of teenagers, but I also recall how John Hughes films are inhabited with real adults we can all relate to, even through the eys of a teenager.

Ultimately, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” takes a kitchen sink approach to the coming-of-age subgenre. Gomez-Rejon combines some stop-motion animation to represent Greg’s inner fears and also includes high school clichés, employs Unreliable Narrator tricks and inserts plenty of clips from his homemade parodies. It feels desperate to win viewers over on its cleverness, despite using well-worn conventions. Too bad the film waits till the third act to reveal the power of its emotional center, shifting into tear-jerker mode when it could’ve been navigating a natural rhythm all along.

 

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-600x250

 

RATING: **

 

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-poster-404x600

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: