"Me And Earl" More Prosaic Than Poetic

Playing like a mash-up of “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Be Kind Rewind” by way of “Moonrise Kingdom” – but not as good as any of them – Sundance hit “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” manages to be a pleasant enough watch without bringing much ingenuity to the table. With fledgling writer Jesse Andrews adapting his own novel for the screen and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon making just his second feature-length film, it’s understandable that “Earl” would be less than surefooted.

But beyond a few laughs, some nice visual touches, and the required tearjerking climax, there’s not much here – a problem inherent in the film’s lead.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a willfully unmemorable teenager, skating his way through high school by being passively friendly to his peers in order to keep a low profile. His existence as a vaguely likable loner makes sense, but it makes for a wildly uninteresting main character.

Frequently punctuated by “The part where…” title cards, the story sees Greg’s senior year uprooted by the unwanted acquisition of friends. On rail one, Greg faces down the fact that the eponymous Earl (RJ Cyler) – whom he dismissively refers to as a “co-worker” – is the best friend he never wanted to admit he had. The two have spent years making “films” – no-budget, pun-based knock-offs of classic movies – to pass the time, eternally taking each other for granted.

Rail two proves even trickier still. Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forces him to hang out with a schoolmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who’s recently been diagnosed with leukemia. The two barely know each other, and their forced friendship begins uneasily. But their rapport is too good to deny and they soon become inseparable.

Gomez-Rejon’s finest moments behind the camera are all in tribute to someone else, from bald-faced Scorsese worship to Michel Gondry-esque stop-motion sequences. As accomplished as these scenes are, they never feel like they’re of the same piece.

The result is a good-natured but disjoined teen drama that aspires to a pedigree pretty far out of reach. Even the biggest laughs feel removed from the piece at large. An out-of-nowhere voice cameo from an Aussie action star is a prime offender.

Even less successful is the film’s cat-and-mouse game of unreliable narration. In a better movie, Greg’s detached father (Nick Offerman) would serve as a buffer for his son’s lies. Instead, their relationship isn’t explored at all as Greg attempts to plot out the rest of the film for us. When we find out whether or not he was lying, it feels like a stunt, much like the pic’s surface-level quirkiness. Quirky with a capital “Q.”

Less hardened audiences will undoubtedly find the endeavor much fresher than it is. And the movie is undeniably charming in places, to the point that even its detractors will find themselves rooting for it. But its Sundance buzz wears off well before the end credits roll.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: June 12, 2015 (Limited)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Screenwriter: Jesse Andrews
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Bobb’e J. Thompson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)