Twee, repugnant Sundance crap doesn't get much more twee, repugnant or Sundance-r than "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl." The winner of Sundance's Grand Jury prize, it's an inexplicably praised exercise that's undone by a wildly inconsistent tone, narrative devices that rotate between incongruous cuteness and bald-faced lying, and a protagonist who's just a horrendous, despicable character.
The film was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own novel. Stealing many of its visual cues from Wes Anderson and borrowing liberally otherwise from the likes of its fellow recent YA adaptations "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Fault in Our Stars," "Me and Earl" unquestionably would have starred Michael Cera, had it been made 5 or 6 years earlier.
The film tells the story of Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a high school outcast who dreams of being a filmmaker. A present-day teenager with the anachronistic musical and cinematic tastes of a man born in 1972 (as this film's director was), Greg has just one friend, the Earl of the title, whose one and only character trait is that he's black. Greg and Earl spend their time making parody remakes of popular art films of the '60s and '70s – so yes, the only entertaining thing in the film already formed the premise of a much better movie, "Be Kind Rewind."
Discovering that a classmate he barely knows named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with cancer, their moms decide that Greg, this socially awkward weirdo should start spending every waking moment with her, so as to cheer her up. Her single mom is Molly Shannon, for some reason playing the part as a boozy Mrs. Robinson type . His parents are Nick Offerman (woefully miscast as an aging hippie academic) and a weirdly frumped-up Connie Britton. You'd think the offspring of Ron Swanson and Mrs. Coach would be, if not cool, at least a little bit interesting, but this guy is not. In fact, I don't remember when I've disliked the protagonist of a movie more.
In short, Greg just sucks. He always says the wrong thing, and the likely reason he lacks friends is that he's sort of insufferable. And it's not that interesting that he knows how to find funny Werner Herzog YouTubes. He reminded me a bit of Robin Williams' son in "World’s Greatest Dad" minus the autoerotic asphyxiation. I mean, are we really supposed to be impressed with this guy, because he’s 17 and has heard of “The 400 Blows”?
Greg and Rachel quickly strike up a friendship, full of inside jokes and an irritating voice-over narration in which Greg hints at what may or may not be coming later. It's the rare film in which the narration being unreliable isn't even the worst thing about it.
Cooke delivers a beautiful, heartbreaking performance, but it's sadly undercut because this isn't her story at all. And that's because "Me and Earl" isn't a movie about a girl suffering from cancer. It's a movie about a navel-gazing asshole suffering because a girl he knows is suffering from cancer. The ultimate endgame- that the events of the film were worth it, if it helped the main character get into college- is especially loathsome.
There’s just so, so much here that goes wrong. The film plays with tropes about high school stereotypes and cliques that were already old when “The Breakfast Club” got to them in 1985. The ‘meta” narration and screen titles are tiresome by about the ten-minute mark. There’s a recurring bit involving claymation-like representations of Greg’s mental state that’s dead on screen from moment one.
And that’s to say nothing of the characters. Earl has no function in the plot to be Greg’s friend and occasionally talk about “titties.” Bobb’e J. Thompson, the little kid from “Role Models,” has a nothing role as Earl’s brother. And there are similar awful characters like a braided white rapper and a violent goth kid.