Movie Review - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Olivia Cooke (left), Thomas Mann (middle)
and RJ Cyler in 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl'
The adaptation of John Green's novel The Fault in Our Stars about a teenage romance where the girl was really sick with cancer was a smashing success last year. This film seems to be a riff on that same premise. The only real difference is that this film adds a third person who seems like he's going to play a more integral role but ends up being just fulfilling some minority quota. At least, this film doesn't desecrate the Anne Frank museum, but it's equally as not worthwhile as The Fault in Our Stars. It's also way too quirky for its own good.

Thomas Mann (Project X and Beautiful Creatures) stars as Greg, a senior in a Pittsburgh high school who annoyingly narrates his day-to-day, at least at the start of the film. He's proud of the fact that he doesn't really have friends, at least not in a genuine way. He boasts the fact that he's rather invisible as he walks through the halls of school. He's friendly with all the various cliques or "nations" like the jocks or the geeks, enough to blend, but he doesn't really go deep with any of them.

RJ Cyler plays Earl. He's known Greg since they were kids and he hangs out with Greg. He's Greg's only real friend. He also assists Greg in making short films that parody classic movies. After about the first parody shown, they grew immediately tiresome. Despite being black, from the poor side of town and being all about the "titties," not much more is learned about Earl.

With Greg, we get that he's applying to college. He can do an impression of Werner Herzog and has a particular sense of humor, but Earl is kept at a distance. Earl shares Greg's love of classic and foreign films, but more digging into him would have been preferred. I understand that this film is told from Greg's point-of-view, but putting Earl's name into the title seems done only because it rhymes with "dying girl," not because the filmmaker cares about that character.

Written by Jesse Andrews, adapting his own novel, and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Glee and American Horror Story), the title rightly starts with "Me" because of the self-involved protagonist. He might not think himself very handsome but he certainly fancies himself funny. Yet, Greg's comedy like his film-parodies grows lame very quickly. The film also has an inherent flaw, which I'm not quite sure it overcomes.

Greg's mother, played by Connie Britton, forces him to spend time with Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), because she's dying of cancer. Apparently, Greg's mom is friends with Rachel's mom, played by Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live). Greg had never hung out with Rachel before and had no interest in her otherwise, so it's never clear why Greg's mom pushes this.

Greg then visits Rachel and in montage form we see those visits play out day-after-day. Titles on screen keep track of the days, counting greater and greater. Aside from Earl, once with Greg, we never see anyone else visit Rachel. There is an off-handed comment about Rachel not wanting to tell people about her cancer, but the cat gets out of the bag, so why don't we see anyone else visiting or why doesn't the mom try to push anyone else on Rachel?

At least with The Fault in Our Stars, the male lead also had cancer, so it connected him with the so-called dying girl in that movie. Here, Greg doesn't have cancer, so connecting him takes a different route, but the route chosen feels too contrived. It also aims to uplift him and not her. Much like The Fault in Our Stars, it doesn't do more than Love Story (1970) did 45 years ago. It simply does so with dialogue that isn't as good. The dialogue is far better here than The Fault in Our Stars, but both fall far below Love Story and Erich Segal's Oscar-nominated screenplay.

This movie lives and breathes all on its quirkiness and the quirkiness of its characters. Even Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) is just too weird here for anyone's good.

There's a short film that Greg makes, which isn't a parody but an original work. Unfortunately, director Gomez-Rejon doesn't show us enough. He shows just a sliver to give the impression that it is perhaps the best thing about this movie, but he instead has us watching the teenagers as they watched it, and I just didn't care to watch them watching something better.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG - 13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


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