The director of this film has directed “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” and has served as personal assistant to Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Director of “Birdman.” He’s clearly been around the block in the movie business. Maybe that’s why “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” feels so well crafted at the onset. The acoustic music popping in and out of scenes is reminiscent of a thoughtful comedy like “Juno” or a dry comedy like “Year One.” It is a funny movie but the trouble is the subject matter. You just can’t laugh at a funeral. For me, the plot marched like a dirge. After a point, I wanted to laugh but was somehow unable. Can a plot be too dark for comedy? For some movie makers, sometimes. That’s why a director of a comedy working with such dark subject matter has to be very very careful. All the clever jokes in the world can’t fix a train wreck plot.
The plot is rather simple: A high school senior, Greg, played by Thomas Mann (“Beautiful Creatures,”Project X”), spends his time making movie parodies, which incidentally aren’t very interesting, clever, or good, ie; “Sockwork Orange.” The titles and content of these little parodies seem forced and wannabe. He does almost nothing else but this and he’s able to get by in school and get accepted to a fairly prestigious college. A girl his age named Rachel played by Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel,” “Ouija”) is diagnosed with cancer and his mother makes him go see her. There isn’t much more to reveal about the plot. He has a film friend Earl played by RJ Cyler, virtually without acting credits, who offers street wisdom to Greg and Rachel throughout the film. I won’t reveal where it goes from there but suffice it to say, it get laborious about halfway through and never recovers.
Dry humor works for actors like Michael Cera and Thomas Mann is no Cera. He smirks far too much to appear deadpan serious. I don’t blame the actor entirely, the script is not comfortable in its element. Some of his jokes are funny but many are not. One running gag is the fact that he eyes pillows for their masturbation object potential. Ok, we got it the first 3 non-subtle times. We can laugh at the story to a point but after that, what can possibly be funny? I found the characters as disingenuous as the script.
While I’m letting the film have it: How can Earl be so street savvy and understanding of life and death at 18? I found his character unnaturally wise for his age. He goes from “Are you gonna play with her titties?” to sage-like aphorisms about life and death. Because the first half of the movie made me laugh and I could follow it to a point, I gave it three stars. It lost two stars due to poor characterization, script writing, and casting. It could have been a lot better. When I give a movie 3/5 it’s pretty good, you may enjoy it. For me? I could have stopped watching half way through and walked away happier with the film.