The fine line that separates quirky and endearing from smug, mannered and grating is BMXed over and left 100 miles behind in ‘Me And Earl And the Dying Girl’ – the latest teen flick romanticising premature death, says Peter Dunne.
Greg (Thomas Mann) deliberately drifts through high school making just enough impact to be noticed without being expected to join any of the cliques. Greg’s one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler) or ‘co-worker’, as he prefers to call him, assists in creating parodies of classic foreign language and arthouse films for their enjoyment alone.
Their decidedly disdainful views of their peers are rattled when Greg’s mother forces him to visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Through her friendship, Greg reconnects with the life he is allowing to pass him by as the possibility grows that she may lose hers.
It is enthusiastically directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, also responsible for several episodes of Glee and adapted by screenwriter, Jesse Andrews from his own book to the big screen. However, events suggest someone else should have taken a pass over the script and attempted to rein it in. With every character having quirks so unusual and extreme, it becomes impossible to ignore that that’s all they are – characters. The only place you could possibly encounter such a series of oddballs in close proximity would be a madhouse. For instance – an intelligent teacher can’t just teach, he also has to contradictorily act like a gang member and be covered in tattoos. A pre-grieving, wine clutching mother has to tipsily hug and smooch strange teenage boys who come to her door, and a cat-obsessed, dressing-gowned father has to talk in detached announcements and give his son weird international foods for lunch, including at one point an actual bag of green slime.
While there is a certain amount of charm to proceedings, everything is just too forced. Greg and Earl, at age seven, watch the making of Werner Herzog’s ‘Fitzcarraldo’, for instance. Obviously placed posters and albums, used to imply that these children could have the breadth of (it has to be said) pretentious tastes that it takes nerds decades to cultivate, succeed only in making eyes roll. The film seems to revel in its supposed cleverness and wittiness but just because it smugly points out the cliches doesn’t mean it is off the hook for then using them in turn.
All that being said, proceedings zip along at a great pace, the film looks great and there are a couple of genuinely touching moments, mostly whenever Olivia Cooke’s tear brimming, liquid eyes fill the screen, supported by a lovely Brian Eno soundtrack. Unfortunately, despite being hidden in plain sight in the movie’s title, the main problem slowly becomes apparent. Greg mentions Earl, but calls Rachel ‘The Dying Girl’, and in the end, that is all she is reduced to – a cypher for how Greg is affected by the situation. She is merely there to illustrate what a caring, wonderful person Greg supposedly is, rather than being an actual human herself.
Me And Earl… did win both the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival but didn’t make the successful mainstream crossover that distributors Fox Searchlight hoped and paid for.
‘Me and Earl and The Dying Girl’ hits cinemas on September 4, 2015.
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