Mark Reviews Movies

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 6/12/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 11, 2015

The "me" of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a teenager who "loves" cinema so much that he makes parodies of the classics based on some immature wordplay on the title (e.g., "The Turd Man," "A Sockwork Orange" featuring sock puppets, and "My Dinner with Andre the Giant"). From what we see of these short parodies, there's little question that Greg (Thomas Mann) has seen these films, but there's plenty of room to question if he understands or appreciates them beyond the mere fact that they're badges of honor—or, better, superiority. He considers himself to be above such trivial concerns as being part of a specific clique in high school (He imagines that he's semi-part of all of them) or having real friends (He refers to his best friend as a "co-worker"). Those short parodies seem to be a further reflection of that sense of being above it all.

That's the feeling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl conveys about what it seems to believe are trivial matters. It knows these things—such as friendship, love, other forms of human interaction, illness, and death—exist, but it's too busy being impressed by its own detachment from—or, if you will, superiority to—such concerns to actually care about them.

It would be easy to argue that the movie's tone is simply an expression of the main character's attitude about life. Indeed, that's probably a fair assessment—no argument about that analysis here. The questions, then, are whether or not the movie stays true to that point of view and, more importantly, if there's any emotional value to his perspective. This gets a bit trickier. If one is on board with Greg from the start, it's likely easier to forgive his narcissistic tendencies and the movie's eventual attempts at emotional catharsis.

Greg, though, is a tough character with whom to sympathize. He is self-centered and seems intentionally uncaring about anyone or anything beyond how that person or thing can improve or steady his detached sense of superiority to everyone and everything. His "co-worker" Earl (RJ Cyler), whom Greg has known since childhood (Other than his friendship to Greg, Earl's defining characteristic is his fondness of breasts), points out that this behavior is simply a defense mechanism for Greg. He's an only child to overbearing parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman). To that, there's really only one old saying with which to respond: Cry me a river. The one about the world's smallest violin might apply, too.

Greg's complacency in being separated from and above everyone else is disrupted when his mother tells him that Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate of his, has been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg only knows Rachel as being part of one of the categories into which he's classified everyone in school (This little tic, which is supposed to be endearing, is kind of disturbing; a professional psychological analysis of this guy would be fascinating to read).

His mother wants him to spend some time with Rachel. In response, Greg throws a screaming, crawling-on-the-floor hissy fit, which director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon follows in a hectic handheld style set to the melodramatic orchestral swells of one of those films that Greg "loves." It's embarrassing on a few levels.

Other odd moments include a sequence in which Greg and Earl accidentally get high on something (making Greg have hallucinations of people in animal costumes), a conversation about masturbating with pillows that is awkwardly called back to during another scene to solidify Greg's failing social status, and an animated cut-away that presents Greg's crush Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) as a moose stomping on Greg as a chipmunk. These scenes, of course, are intended to express the inner working of Greg's mind, and honestly, the movie can keep them. Gomez-Rejon's aggressive stylistic choices (e.g., tilting the camera 90 degrees to track characters, splitting the screen to offer a montage of Greg's parodies, and the scenes of stop-motion animation) are distracting. At least one obvious choice, which captures a conversation about Rachel's illness in a one-take, is sound, but it's also perhaps the only time the movie appears to be interested in anything of significance.

The screenplay by Jesse Andrews (based on his novel) is a hodgepodge of dishonest choices. It expects we'll like Greg. It assumes that Rachel's illness will affect us without bothering to explore its effect on her (Cooke's performance is the movie's best asset). It figures we'll see the way Greg has changed without having him change. Worst of all, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl employs a trick of narration that is so transparently manipulative that the final emotional response is one of anger toward this character, the movie, and their symbiotic arrogance.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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