Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Posted by Joel Copling on June 19, 2015

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" says little about its characters that we cannot guess from within a minute of meeting them, and it says less about the narrative through which they travel. This is the latest in a long line of films with similar tones (some of them, including this one, hailing from a certain January-set film festival) about characters who speak in or narrate through dime-store philosophy about whatever problems currently plague them. Some of these movies work, and some do not, and this one, based on screenwriter Jesse Andrews's own novel, is slap in the latter category. All of the quirky filmmaking techniques from other directors, like Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman, are apparent in Alejandro Gomez-Rejon's sophomore directorial effort, and this time it's beyond annoying to witness.

The title, at least, has its priorities in order. There's "Me," who is named Greg (Thomas Mann), a privileged but dully apathetic kid from the suburbs who is so over the whole high-school scene that he's parsed out the cliques entirely in his head (regardless, it seems, of the reality of where each kid actually "belongs," but whatever) and has the plan to get an "in" with all of them (whether it's joining on a certain Medieval-themed card game or pretending to enjoy the single loner's random rap concerts from a plinth in front of the school). His parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton in performances that are secondary to how quirkily they are written) are just as apathetic as he, but at least they've educated him on things like natural, unusual foods and classic foreign cinema.

That's where Earl (RJ Cyler) comes in. He's a black kid from the bad part of the neighborhood, but they have ("strangely," according to Greg) the same interests. This sparks from a young age of watching Werner Herzog movies with Greg's dad the apparent "love" of making their own cinema. Well, I say that. It's unfortunately just a series of juvenile satire that pokes fun at movies (among them, 1957's "The Seventh Seal," 1971's "A Clockwork Orange," 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," and many, many more) that the two boys clearly never understood (This is never more apparent than in the reductive title afforded to their parody of 1973's "Don't Look Now," which merely spells out the final five minutes and nothing else).

It's a destructive sense of detachment that defines these characters (who stare, blank-eyed, at their history teacher's TV screen as more movies or commentaries on them play on it)--or at least specifically Greg, and this is never more evident than in the introduction of Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the "dying girl" of the title. She could be a solid representation of a young soul slowly deteriorating from the effects of acute myelogenous leukemia (Indeed, Cooke portrays this well and is generally the only actor in the cast who escapes unscathed, especially gifting her final scene with devastating naturalism), but the character's entire arc seems engineered to Teach Greg Something About Life. It's just as well that one of the final shots of the film (involving a Post-it note) proves that Greg hasn't learned that Something yet and is nearly impossible to sympathize or empathize with, because "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" doesn't offer a solid-enough thematic backbone even to warrant such treatment.

Film Information

Thomas Mann (Greg), Olivia Cooke (Rachel), RJ Cyler (Earl), Nick Offerman (Greg's Dad), Connie Britton (Greg's Mom), Molly Shannon (Denise), Jon Bernthal (Mr. McCarthy), Katherine C. Hughes (Madison).

Directed by Alejandro Gomez-Rejon and written by Jesse Andrews, based on the novel by Andrews.

Rated PG-13 (sexual content, drug material, language, thematic elements).

105 minutes.

Released on June 12, 2015.