Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, 'Me and Earl and The Dying Girl' was a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and won various awards.
One can see its appeal to Sundance-goers, it being loaded with film references. Greg and Earl bond over art movies, including ‘Burden of Dreams’, the documentary about the making of Werner Herzog's epic ‘Fitzcarraldo’.
‘Me and Earl’ reeks of film cred, while hoping the audience might overlook its flaws.
The main character Greg (Thomas Mann) is a senior at high school who has successfully navigated himself among the various social groups in school without ever offending anyone. He is then forced by his mother to make friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is dying from leukemia. The two slowly become friends, though they don't quite seem to fall in love. Greg, together with his friend/co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler), make sweded or spoof films with title puns such as ‘The Sockwork Orange’ and ‘My Dinner With Andre The Giant’. Olivia starts watching their films and Greg ends up promising to make a film for her. Through this period, he stopped turning in homework, placing his future in jeopardy.
There's much to like about ‘Me and Earl’. There's a sweet charm to all the characters, anchored by great performances from Mann and Cooke. The film is boosted by performances from Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from TV’s ‘Park and Recreation’) and Jon Bernthal from ‘The Walking Dead’, though Molly Shannon, who plays Rachel's mum, has the best supporting role.
But Earl himself remains a two-dimensional character, and his friendship with Greg is very unconvincing. Their agreement to make movie spoofs together is practically joyless. And their projects are very polished, particularly for works not meant to be shown to anyone.
Perhaps director Alfonso Gomez Rejon was afraid that too much camaraderie might break the sombre mood of this indie film. Earl and Olivia, "the dying girl", end up as characters that orbit around Greg, who is privileged and has no real problems. And Greg's relationship with Olivia never really develops, steering away from sentimentality. It might seem realistic, but the film is so self-conscious about it that you just hope that it will mature and grow into something more complex.
This Sundance hit deserves some credit, but for those who aren't film buffs, it offers nothing new to the teenage drama/comedy film genre.