The Sundance-winning teen drama hits hard emotionally but wastes too much time on its inwardly focused protagonist.

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The biggest flaw in Me và Earl and the Dying Girl is right there in the title: the first word, specifically. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Sundance-winning coming-of-age drama is rife with meta-textual ambition, featuring a fourth wall-breaking narrator, rapid cuts lớn stop-motion animation, phối thiết kế so attentive to detail that it evokes Wes Anderson, & a teen-with-cancer plot that largely manages lớn skirt cliché. Which makes it all the more frustrating that it filters all of this through the point of view of a bland, self-centered protagonist whose personal growth makes up the narrative sầu arc of the film while simultaneously being the least interesting thing about it.

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The “me” of Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is Greg (Thomas Mann), a gawky high school senior in Pittsburgh who narrates his story lớn the audience with irritating self-awareness, essaying a breakdown of his school’s jocks/geeks/stoners sub-cultures as if it isn’t territory that’s been covered in a thous& other films. Greg cultivates his invisibility in the school, proudly an acquaintance to lớn all and an enemy lớn none, & spends most of his time in a history teacher’s office watching art films with his frikết thúc Earl (RJ Cyler), who helps him make silly but thoughtful movie parodies that have sầu names like My Dinner with Andre the Giant or A Sockwork Orange. When his mother (Connie Britton) hears that a classmate of Greg’s has been diagnosed with leukemia, she nudges hyên inlớn spending time with her, kindling a friendship that Greg"s voice-over constantly reminds us is doomed.

Both Earl & the cancer-stricken Rachel (Olivia Cooke) would serve sầu as far more involving protagonists than Greg. Relegated to lớn the sidelines, the young actors deliver rather spellbinding performances, though they’re limited by their dull narrative sầu purpose. Earl is sometimes Greg’s comically blunt sidekick (he’s African American & supposedly from a “bad part of town” that consists of two ramshackle shotgun houses) and at other times a wise sage beyond his years; Rachel has a doomed sort of maturity, watching sadly but empathetically as the people around her struggle with her tragic diagnosis.

In the middle is the annoyingly precocious Greg. His parents are gently encouraging oddballs (his dad, played by Niông xã Offerman, putters around the house cooking adventurous ethnic foods), he’s blessed with chất lượng artistic talent (the quirky films he makes with Earl are lovingly rendered on screen as earthy gobs of genius by Gomez-Rejon), & he’s innately funny & charming. So, of course, he spends the whole film complaining about what a boring nonentity he is & how detached he feels from everyone, needing the shock of his frikết thúc dying of cancer to lớn finally push hyên into lớn adulthood.

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The biggest flaw in Me & Earl and the Dying Girl is right there in the title: the first word, specifically.

This is what keeps Me & Earl from ever feeling particularly authentic or weighty. Far soapier teen dramas along similar lines, lượt thích last year’s The Fault in Our Stars, might suffer from brutally obvious symbolism và sudden plot twists, but they also value their lead characters as equals. Rachel is lovingly performed by Cooke, but exists mostly lớn nudge Greg toward his own personal realizations. Screenwriter Jesse Andrews, who adapted his 2012 novel, gives viewers plenty of evidence khổng lồ recognize George’s big heart and his personal flaws, but doesn"t let Greg himself discover them until the over of the film.

Still, this is a drama about a young girl with cancer, và its final act is designed lớn hit viewers hard. Gomez-Rejon (a longtime second-unit director who made his feature debut last year with The Town That Dreaded Sundown) shows off way too much in the film’s first hour, filling the frame with tons of overtly clever details and busily moving his camera around to no real end. His meticulous compositions have drawn many comparisons to lớn Wes Anderson, but Me và Earl"s kinetic filming of perfunctory, high-school hustle and bustle evokes Richard Kelly"s work on Donnie Darko (another Sundance favorite, many moons ago), while lacking that film’s supernatural edge. It’s a relief when Gomez-Rejon settles down a little for the film"s more somber closing scenes, which help reflect Greg’s growing maturity in the face of Rachel"s advancing illness.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is both helped and hindered by its status as a Sundance darling—it’s hard lớn walk into a much-hyped drama about a teenage girl with cancer expecting it to reinvent the wheel. There are only so many ways to lớn tell this story, and despite the self-aware voice-over & multiple films-within-a-film, there’s little to Me and Earl’s plot that hasn’t been seen before, even if it handles its final moments much more deftly than its peers. Greg"s personal evolution closes on a powerful note that helps rescue the film from being formulaic; but it’s still a shame that it’s Greg’s story, first and foremost, that the film chooses to lớn tell.