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New Release Review - ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

A budding filmmaker befriends a girl dying of cancer.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal




"If you thought his showy but soulless direction of last year's remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown was irritating, then strap yourself in as Gomez-Rejon takes you for another ride on his ever wandering camera dolly. Just don't expect the ride to take you anywhere."






The title may be Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but it's all me, me, me in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's sophomore effort. If you thought his showy but soulless direction of last year's remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown was irritating, then strap yourself in as Gomez-Rejon takes you for another ride on his ever wandering camera dolly. Just don't expect the ride to take you anywhere.
The movie begins in annoying fashion (and believe me, that's how it continues) with a voiceover from high schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who tells us he doesn't know how to begin the story. It may as well be a confession from Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Jesse Andrews, because neither seem to know the first thing about cinematic storytelling on this evidence. We then get the classic scene that opens every high school movie, in which our protagonist clues us in on his relationship with his school's various cliques. This is but the first of many cliches throughout Me and Earl, but the film seems painfully oblivious to how generic it really is. Through voiceover, Greg repeatedly tells us "This isn't your average teen drama!" He's correct. It's below average, but as generic as they come (we even get a drug trip sequence).
We're then introduced to Olivia Cooke's dying girl Rachel, who Greg is forced to befriend when his mother takes pity on her. The two quickly bond, though we never really get a sense of the maturing of their friendship, as Gomez-Rejon pummels us with quick moving montages, never letting his camera settle down for a simple bit of human observation. Gomez-Rejon pulls every filmmaking trick out of his bag, but it's all out of context, giving the impression he's watched a lot of movies, but never stopped to ask why his favourite director's use certain shots. Camera moves are loaded; they can invoke specific feelings, but the only emotion Gomez-Rejon's pretentious camerawork provokes is rage. Several times I wanted to reach into the screen and steady the frame. Why is your camera moving like this Alfonso? What are you trying to achieve? Why is the camera on its side now? Does the script bore you so much that you can't just focus on the greatest tool a filmmaker has, the eyes of their actors?
As if resigning himself to the fact that he can't tell a story with images, Gomez-Rejon uses a combination of onscreen text and Greg's voiceover to tell us what we should be feeling in every scene, and uses Brian Eno tracks, along with music from classic movies, to borrow some unearned pathos.
It's telling that, despite the subject matter, I never once felt anything for the plight of Rachel, simply because the film itself doesn't care; she's simply a prop, a clothes peg for quirky wigs, like Zach Braff's daughter in Wish I Was Here, a film this shares similar traits with. There's one third act scene in which Gomez-Rejon finally stops messing with buttons and holds a two shot for a couple of minutes, allowing Cooke and Mann to finally take centre stage. It provides a quick tease of the movie this could and should have been, the movie it would have been were it directed by a filmmaker with emotional maturity and an understanding of the language of cinema. Unfortunately, as it is, Me and Earl is the product of a director with a severe case of ADHD, a Michael Bay for the Sundance crowd.



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