Monday, 31 August 2015

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl: Film Review

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl: Film Review

Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

The sick lit genre got a boost in the arm with The Fault In Our Stars, a sweet romance that got you in the feels as well as working to the tropes and conventions.

So, it's inevitable that Me And Earl And The Dying Girl with its button-pushing title and poster of three friends will be held up in comparison.

But, that does this quirky Sundance audience award winner a disservice - to a degree.

It's the story of high schooler Greg (Mann), who bounces between the school sets without attaching to any of them. His sole friend is a kid who comes from a different neighbourhood Earl (Cyler), with whom he makes spoof movies a la Be Kind Rewind and who he hangs out with at lunch to avoid the cafeteria dilemma.

Greg's world changes when his mother forces him to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who's diagnosed with leukaemia. Initially reticent, Greg finds an escape from his world in Rachel's but gradually begins to realise that he's more invested in Rachel's fight than his own crumbling life.

Me and Earl And The Dying Girl, in parts, feels like a slightly too smug and offbeat take on the genre, destined to be beloved by some and loathed by others.

Based on Jesse Andrews' book, occasionally it feels like it's trying too hard as it negotiates the tropes, mocks them with self-deprecating touches and cocks a snook at where it's come from. It's easy to see why it's been an audience hit at the Sundance festival and in other festivals - though I suspect it's only within certain parts of the audience.

Slathered in amusing movie in-jokes thanks to the affectionate films that Earl and Greg make (Sample title - Senior Citizen Kane), there's certainly just enough here to give it a broader brush to those who may be put off by the awkward moping of others within the genre.

But yet, while it's heart-warming, it's never emotionally devastating and never really developed a personal connection.

Greg is too self-centred, too aloof from all around him to feel too much or to gain an attachment too. Granted, it's possibly the embodiment of being a teenager, but it's a film which doesn't offer him a journey or redemptive arc.

Equally, there's too much of a sidelining of Rachel here - ironically though, in doing so, this helps the film avoid mawkish moments where you'd expect romance to blossom - a touch that the film's so self-aware to mock with Greg intoning that "This would be where we kiss." However, it's a shame as Olivia Cooke brings a stellar performance to the screen as the girl going through the various stages of the illness, without one moment feeling false at all.

If anything, Me and Earl And The Dying Girl is more about friendship and sadly, in its final stretches, falls headlong into some of the cliches it's been trying hard to avoid throughout. It's not without its charms, but I have to admit, the majority of them were lost on me.

There's no denying Me and Earl And The Dying Girl's freshness and potential appeal to its demo as it negotiates what it means to be a teenager, but there's equally no denying the occasional quirkiness becomes overbearing (such as its stop-motion animations that appear from time to time), tearing it away from its more genuine moments and depriving it of the wider status it deserves early on.


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