“Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” movie review


Sergio Carlos, News Anchor

There is no genre of cinema that bores me more than annoyingly self-aware young adult dramas typified in this John Green Fault in Our Stars epoch. In fact, I have refused to watch any of the films adulated by the teenage movie-going crowd, from Divergent to Paper Towns, because of the sheer stupidity found in every scene and piece of dialogue.

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, the “must-watch” indie film of the summer and winner of the 2015 Sundance Festival, had the potential to rise above its compeers and offer a meaningful portrait of life in high school for the “weirdos” or the “outcasts” who aren’t as “cool” or “popular” as the other kids. Its talented leading trio of Thomas Mann, R.J. Cyler, and Olivia Cooke (who are “Me,” “Earl,” and the “Dying Girl” respectively), supported by established stars Nick Offerman and Connie Britton, had the makings of a terrific coming-of-age movie. Instead, we got a disgrace to the Sundance legacy and a movie so utterly cognizant of its own existence that it would have Jean-Paul Sartre gushing with pride.

As we have come to expect from stereotypical high school movies, it was no surprise that our hero, Greg Gaines (Mann), is navigating through the cruel waters of senior year, attempting to make as little an impact as he can on school. He floats between the “kingdoms,” or cliques, that you find around the average high school (jocks, goths, nerds, etc.), associating with all but befriending none. Greg’s self-centered high school routine changes when his mother (Britton) tells him that his neighborhood acquaintance, Rachel Kushner (Cooke), has leukemia, and that he should spend the afternoon with her to cheer her up. Greg responds in typical, teenage boy fashion (“Moooomm, do I haaaave to?”), but he grudgingly goes to her house. Although Rachel wallows in her self-pity while Greg makes introductions (complete with the classic “My mom made me come here”, thrown in for full effect), they hit it off and begin a brilliant and believable friendship that is the high-mark for this otherwise mediocre film.

As Rachel’s leukemia worsens and her struggle with chemotherapy leaves her in an even greater depression, Earl (Cyler), Greg’s infinitely more charming and personable childhood friend from the projects, convinces his partner that they show Rachel their amateur movie collection made entirely of adorably dumb spoofs of classic cinema standards like “Pooping Tom”, “A Sockwerk Orange”, and “Eyes Wide Butt”. Greg relents, and Rachel falls in love with his parodies despite her agonizing condition. Greg’s growing platonic friendship with Rachel leads him to neglect his schoolwork, but Greg finally begins to show a glimpse of humanity underneath his impersonal exterior.

But alas, that glimpse of humanity is buried by a script that chooses to idolize Greg’s lame angsty-y narcissism at the expense of developing Rachel’s compelling character. The major bump in the two teen’s friendship, when Rachel decides to end chemotherapy, becomes the “I’m Greg and I’m an Angry Teen” show where Rachel is relegated to the status of an extra.

Predictably, the two make up in the moving scene where Greg shares his finished short film with a dying Rachel (SPOILER ALERT: she dies), but at the cost of seeing just how profoundly Rachel’s decision affected everyone but Greg.

Like other adapted screenplays, this film cannot help the fact that its subject material is simply a rehash of almost every YA book that has been published in the last five years. But this uninspired movie, replete with wanna-be Wes Anderson cinematography, should have done much better. Nick Offerman, of Parks and Rec fame, was horribly underused throughout and decidedly not funny. Earl, a scene-stealer whenever he was not thrown in Greg’s background, served only to knock (literally) some sense into Greg when he was being too self-centered. The little subtitles that accompanied each change in scene (“Day X of a Doomed Friendship”) were just annoying and pointless. This movie, simply put, was too cute for its own good.

I recognize that I am in the minority in writing this review. After all, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl performed exceedingly well in the box office and won top accolades at Sundance. But that does not mean it should pretend to be something it’s not. This movie will not be in the pantheon of great Sundance winner of years past (think Whiplash, Fruitvale Station, Waiting for Superman), nor will it capture the hearts and minds of teens like The Fault in Our Stars. It is a middle-of-the-road and undistinguished movie that you talk about for one week before forgetting you ever even saw it.

Rating: 2.5/5