Film review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This tale of disaffected teenagers is a bold, assured clash of influences, but hits the right mix of comedy and tragedy, says Michael Joyce.

That title, which is both striking and attention grabbing yet also twee and a little annoying, really suits the film. Going in, you sense that this film could go either way: coming out you realise that it has kind of gone both. It forges an improbable path from brash high school outsider comedy to teen cancer weepie.

Greg (Mann) has perfected a way of skimming painlessly through high school by being on nodding terms with every lunch hall clique while remaining totally unaffiliated. He can do this because he’s smart enough to amuse the cool kids and dorky enough to fit in with the outsiders. He himself is a mass of self-loathing and uncertainty, and his only break from this world of acquaintances is his sort of friend Earl (Cyler), who he makes film parodies with: A Sockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Butt, Death in Tennis. During his final year he is forced by his mother to go and make friends with a girl, Rachel (Cooke), he doesn’t know, who has contracted leukaemia.

Me and Earl is full of moments of grace and hilarity. The young cast are appealing, though it is the supporting adult cast that get the scene-stealing glories. Nick Offerman’s droll deadpan-style seems designed to make Bill Murray look like he’s trying too hard. The direction is assured and bold, playing little games with expectations. Supposed friends Earl and Greg appear to have absolutely no connection with each other; Earl seems to have been conceived as a parody of the Stereotype Black Mate role, and remains the sore thumb throughout.

It is a smart-arsed film about the limitations of being smart-arsed. The film’s theme is how an irony-cosseted generation that has learned to be studiedly unaffected by everything comes to deal with harsh, unforgiving reality. Like Greg, the film skims along and seems to be touching bases with many different styles. To be honest, I liked it better when it was being flip and funny than sad and weepy. It is genuinely moving, though I did feel a little bit had in retrospect; suckered in with the promise of Heathers, only to gradually be sidetracked into The Fault In Our Stars.

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