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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Movie Review

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) movie poster Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Theatrical Release: June 12, 2015 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon / Writer: Jesse Andrews (novel & screenplay)

Cast: Thomas Mann (Greg Gaines), RJ Cyler (Earl Jackson), Olivia Cookie (Rachel Kushner), Nick Offerman (Greg's Dad), Connie Britton (Greg's Mom), Molly Shannon (Denise Kushner), Jon Bernthal (Mr. McCarthy), Katherine C. Hughes (Madison), Matt Bennett (Scott Mayhew), Masam Holden (Ill Phil), Bobb'e J. Thompson (Derrick), Gavin Dietz (Young Greg Gaines), Edward DeBruce III (Young Earl Jackson), Natalie Marchelletta (Anna), Chelsea Zhang (Naomi), Hugh Jackman (voice of Himself)


The high school experience is yet again dramatized in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, an indie film adapted from Jesse Andrews' 2012 young adult novel. The titular "me" is Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a senior who doesn't fit in with any of the cliques at his Pittsburgh high school. He might be good for a nod or fist bump in the hallway, but he considers himself invisible to his peers at large.
One exception is Earl Jackson (RJ Cyler), a black classmate who lives nearby. The two share a love for foreign and other art films, partly inherited from Greg's cultured father (Nick Offerman). Greg and Earl make short, inexpensive parodies of their favorites, such as A Sockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Butt, and Monorash (that's Rashomon). Despite the incalculable amount of time needed to discover all these films and then put their own spin on them as well as the fact that they eat lunch together everyday in their favorite teacher's office, Greg describes Earl as his "co-worker", not his "friend."

Greg has some self-esteem issues to work out, but isn't really interested in continuing his education at college. When Greg learns a school acquaintance of his, Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), has been diagnosed with leukemia, he reluctantly obeys his mother's (Connie Britton) directive to spend time with her. It's a challenge at first, but a genuine friendship emerges from Greg and Rachel's increasingly frequent interactions. Rachel also encourages Greg to consider college. Meanwhile, Greg regrets agreeing in any way to making a special movie for Rachel, as she copes with chemotherapy-induced baldness and lonely, lethargic solitude.

Greg (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) take in the sights of their high school's narrow cafeteria.

Me and Earl, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance, offers an appealing take on high school with a likable sarcastic protagonist at its center (Mann has blossomed into an agreeable Justin Long-type). Unfortunately, the depictions strike you as incredibly contrived and artificial, like a young filmmaker's idea of what high school today might be like. Or a young author, since there is a book, but Andrews adapts himself, all the while making no secret his love of art cinema. The film is full of Criterion Collection cover art in poster form. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, graduating from TV's "Glee" and "American Horror Story" plus over twenty years of various crew jobs (including second unit direction on Argo),
brings an artist's sensibility to the proceedings, while Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, trusted collaborator of Chan-wook Park, fills the movie with tasteful compositions that remind you this film is more Rushmore than Clueless.

All the great visuals, an abundant heart, and sporadic wit are not enough to distract you from the artificiality of this world. We may see Earl listening to Martin Scorsese's audio commentary on The Red Shoes, but we never buy him as an art film lover or as someone with anything in common with Greg. Likewise, Greg's rise from Rachel's acquaintance to one and only confidante is far-fetched, a transparent pull on the heartstrings that is scripted but never earned or believed. Furthermore, Greg is a nonentity character who crumbles under scrutiny, something Rachel subjects him to in a rare moment of candor. An outcast only in his mind, he repeatedly describes himself as looking like a chipmunk, for some reason. His exchanges with girls are conveyed with a stop-motion moose stomping on a chipmunk.

Probably the worst thing the movie does is betray the viewer's trust with a crucial, shameless, and indefensible misdirect, one of a few moments designed to free the film from convention that instead only underscore this isn't as clever or different as it thinks it is. It's like a poor man's The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Fault in Our Stars and yet it wants to be some offbeat teenager's favorite movie ever.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Inside Out Jurassic World Tomorrowland Avengers: Age of Ultron
Rushmore Juno Clueless Superbad Adventureland Easy A Youth in Revolt
Thomas Mann: Welcome to Me Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Beautiful Creatures Fun Size
Olivia Cooke: Bates Motel: Season One | Connie Britton: This Is Where I Leave You
Nick Offerman: The Kings of Summer Paradise Somebody Up There Likes Me The Lego Movie

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Reviewed June 19, 2015.

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