Greg is in his final year of high school. His mother keeps thrusting college guide books under his nose whilst he avoids applying. Greg spends his spare time with Earl – an unlikely companion who he likens to a co-worker rather than a friend. Both spend their spare time making films – in the form of parodies of cinematic classics. They eat lunch in their history teacher’s office, whilst masters of cinema discuss the greats on a laptop before them. The vast history of cinema creeps into every scene of this movie; Nosferatu t-shirts, The 400 Blows posters and the unmistakable words and voice of Herzog are never far away. Yet this is hardly a film for film lovers; although one can’t help but chortle at the boys’ homage to cinematic greats in their own films which include Eyes Wide Butt, Sockwork Orange and Senior Citizen Cane. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is clearly made out of a love for movies, but the constant references get a little tiresome and feel somewhat self-indulgent after a while (a bit like that guy at the back of every film studies lecture hall who won’t shut up about how under-appreciated Tarantino’s Death Proof is). The plot is simple. A girl at Greg’s school is diagnosed with leukaemia and Greg’s mum forces him to spend time with her. What begins as an insincere and patronising friendship quickly stems into a real one – something Greg isn’t comfortable with. Greg’s narration explains to us very early on that he never chose one group of friends at school. Instead he maintains a mild acquaintance with the majority. This is not a film about cancer, it’s a film about a crisis of confidence, self-loathing and the courage it takes to let others get to know you. A deeply relatable, but far too showy, alternative comedy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is nice enough but lacks precision and adequate pacing.
The film’s humour is inconsistent but there’s enough to get you through. I was charmed for the most part and impressed with how content I was in the company of such unlikeable characters. This is thanks to the three outstanding young leads and their characters’ complexities. On the other hand, Nick Offerman is the wasted star-power here. The Parks and Recreations cult star occasionally wanders in and out of scenes, in a dressing gown. His character is pointless, unnecessary and not funny – an oversight resulting in squandered time and effort for Offerman. It’s briefly amusing to see Ron Swanson cuddle a cat but that’s the extent of the joke. Brian Eno’s Another Green World forms the movies soundtrack. His wonderful sounds swim in and out of each scene; usually lovely but sometimes briefly distracting. Thomas Mann plays Greg with an initially confusing confidence that we grow to understand to be a barrier for his insecurities. RJ Cyler is both humorous and sensitive as Earl. Olivia Cooke, a Lancashire lass in disguise, displays the vulnerability, dignity and misery that a cancer diagnosis either brings or needs. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has many flaws but luckily contains just enough heart and soul to get you through its more absurd and poorly-judged moments.
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