by Patrick Bromley
There may be a decent movie buried somewhere deep inside Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the second film from former TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon after last year's remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Unfortunately, whatever good there is has been obscured by heaps and heaps of self-conscious, unnecessary style. It's an approach that was acceptable in Sundown, as that was a movie that allowed for flashy directorial pyrotechnics -- the "meta" nature of the remake afforded more flamboyant and experimental choices. In a movie like Me and Earl, which is supposed to be about actual humans who actually get to know, care about and learn from one another, it's a disaster.
I'm sure everyone involved with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl means well, from the cast to director Gomez-Rejon to screenwriter Jesse Andrews, who here adapts his own novel. Yet I can't shake the feeling that I found almost every single thing about the movie irritating, save the performances of Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Molly Shannon (as Rachel's mother) and one genuinely moving scene near the end (at least they're able to make that one count). It's not just that the movie is mannered, which it is, or that it is smug, which it is, or that is manipulative in ways that are dishonest, which it is (and before you object, yes all movies are manipulative, particularly those we classify as "tearjerkers," but there are specific ways that this movie manipulates that I can't talk about without spoiling things). The irritation comes from the combination of all three coupled with Gomez-Rejon's wrongheaded approach to the material. He overdirects almost every scene as though he's afraid to let a single moment speak for itself or like the audience will grow restless if he doesn't spin the camera around or flip it upside down seven times, particularly during the first third of the movie (he slows down after that). Even the long single takes -- at least one of which is framed nicely and, for the most part, works -- begin to call attention to themselves as such. Gomez-Rejon can never stop being the star of his movie.
Rushmore, we knew that he believed in them. He meant it. Greg's efforts, like everything else about Me and Earl, are insincere.
(500) Days of Summer, The Way Way Back and now Earl, which is closer to The Way Way Back than any of the other titles on that list. Take that however you like depending on your feelings about The Way Way Back. With its cancer plot, Me and Earl goes for too-easy emotion. With its irony-drenched approach to the coming of age film, it tries to have it both ways, attempting to take the piss out of the very thing it bends over backwards to ultimately imitate. The film's protagonist is one of the more problematic I've seen in a teen movie in a long time, and because the movie is told from his point of view it takes on all of his selfishness and lack of real substance. Gomez-Rejon tries to cover for it with photography that would make Brian De Palma say "cool it," further pushing the audience out of the film when it ought to be drawing them in closer. I guess the lesson in the end is that everyone has their own story to tell, but some people are too far up their own asses to get it. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl knows something about that.