Starring Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke. Rated PG.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which won audience and jury awards at this year’s Sundance festival, is in love with moviemaking itself. Fortunately, its quirky obsessiveness doesn’t get in the way of witty, heartfelt storytelling.
Mainly, that story is about Greg Gaines, a Pittsburgh teenager played by Project X star Thomas Mann. Since childhood, his best pal has been Earl (newcomer RJ Cyler), who’s from the poorer, blacker part of town. Greg refers to Earl as his “coworker”, presumably because most of their time is spent industriously, making elaborate spoofs of their favourite foreign movies. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see A Sockwork Orange or The 400 Bros?
Gangly Greg, who has intimacy issues, also displays an oddly collegial relationship with his overly cerebral dad (Nick Offerman), who turned the kids on to those movies, plus equally exotic food, and with his humourlessly sincere mom (Connie Britton). The latter guilts him into visiting Rachel (U.K. charmer Olivia Cooke), whose recent diagnosis of leukemia doesn’t make her any gladder in the fool-suffering department. But Greg’s other main hobby is self-deprecation—as expressed in a running voice-over taken by screenwriter Jesse Andrews from his own same-named novel—and he’s just foolish enough to break through her reserve.
Our guy is, of course, more keen on a popular, conventionally pretty classmate (Katherine C. Hughes). But when she tells Greg and Earl to make a movie for Rachel, he’s challenged to create something more than pure insular snark. Greg is further encouraged by a teacher (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal) whose tattooed brand of macho-Zen philosophy keeps him on his toes at school.
The incidental characters are well sketched by veteran TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who also employs metacinematic twists of all kinds, including claymation, old movie footage, weird camera angles, and invigorating shock cuts. It’s slightly surprising that we don’t learn more about Rachel, her white-wine-guzzling mom (Molly Shannon), or Earl and his family. But the focus stays on a boy in transition, and the film’s eccentric balancing of playful and serious tones makes Me hard to categorize, or forget.