A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
If you grew up, as I did, watching old black-and-white movies on a local television channel, then you know the experience of learning young that there is a whole world of movies outside the ones shown at the multiplex. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," the baffling Sundance hit (it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize), directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, with a script by Jesse Andrews, based on his best-selling novel, features two teenage characters obsessed with the Great Movies. Other than that acquisitive movie-mad mindset, it is a pandering, self-flattering mess, featuring unearned catharsis, lazy clichés and characters presented in broad, sometimes-offensive stereotypes.
The worst part is that "Me and Earl" believes it is aware of all of this. Every cliché arrives with a wink of self-knowing commentary before it, to say, "Yes, we know this is a cliche, but we are making a comment about the cliché!" Saying it don't make it so. Besides, such commentary has been done before, and it's been done much better. There's a laziness at work in "Me and Earl," a reliance on well-trod ground and over-chewed cultural tropes, and perhaps it is supposed to be that way (these are kids who see everything through the lens of their movie-watching), but it still doesn't work. The winks about the clichés, including the one in the title, only serve to point up how tired those clichés are.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a detached and depressive teenager, who resists emotional involvement to such a degree that he can't even admit that his best friend since childhood, Earl (RJ Cyler), is his best friend. He refers to Earl, instead, as a "co-worker." He and Earl grew up watching movies like Werner Herzog's "Aguirre The Wrath of God", Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," Powell and Pressberger's "Tales of Hoffmann," and spend their free time as teenagers making their own movies, spoofs of the greats with titles like "The 400 Bros," "The Sockwork Orange," and "2:48 p.m. Cowboy." One day Greg's mother (Connie Britton) orders him to go visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate just diagnosed with cancer. Greg does not even know Rachel, but he shows up at her house, and is immediately lusted over by Rachel's boozy mother (Molly Shannon), who answers the door with a drink in her hand, cooing about who is this "delicious," "yummy" young man. Rachel is confused as to why Greg is there, annoyed even, and Greg begs to be allowed to hang out with her, just for one day, so he can report back to his mother.
Because of course, it is a dying girl's responsibility to make the world okay for everyone in her midst, to be inspirational, to teach people how to love, how to live—even strangers who show up at her door on a charity mission. At one point he says, "Please appreciate how honest I just was." A valid answer to that statement would be, "No. I'm dying. I don't know you. Go away."