Wednesday, 2 September 2015


20th Century Fox Films

A film adapted from a young adult novel featuring a cancer-stricken girl: didn't we see this film last year? Kind of. But whereas the 'girl' (played by Shailene Woodley) was very much the focus of the John Green adaptation, The Fault In Our Stars, the titular female in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, and written by Jesse Andrews based on his own YA novel) is a supporting player.

The focus is very much on the 'Me'. That's Greg (Thomas Mann), an adolescent in his final year of high school who has managed to navigate that intrinsically American hell relatively unscathed; keeping a low profile by avoiding membership of any particular clique, and keeping on friendly terms with pretty much everyone. Spending his lunch times away from the cafeteria and taking refuge in the office of his history teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal), further aiding and abetting his under-the-radar high school existence.

Not that Greg is without friends, or as he terms it, a co-worker. That would be Earl (RJ Cyler), Greg's sidekick since early childhood who also spends his lunch hour in Mr. McCarthy's office. Earl also shares a similar passion for art house cinema; he and Greg making their own short versions of cinema classics with punny titles and strictly for their own viewing pleasure (though Greg's stay-at-home dad (Nick Offerman) is a fan).

But Greg's insular world is upended when his mother (Connie Britton) insists he visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Rachel's as nonplussed as Greg is to have an unwelcome guest at her pity party, but the two soon discover a similar sense of humour and what begins as a begrudging good deed on Greg's part soon develops into friendship.

Some have complained that the Rachel character is a mere plot device, conceived to elicit unearned tears, or, at worst, she is a token female. Earl, too, is arguably underused -- the token black friend designed to highlight the white guy's 'goodness' -- but as the title states, it's all about Greg. And Greg, like all adolescents, is selfish and self-absorbed; Mann succeeding in keeping our protagonist on this side of tolerable, and Rachel and Earl keeping him in-check.

Where Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is headed is probably never in doubt (even as Earl's narration insists otherwise), but Gomez-Rejon and Andrews manage to navigate the YA minefield with more than a modicum of wit and pathos. Compared to another recent film featuring a M-M-F teen triumvirate, Rick Famuyiwa's Dope, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may not be as joyous but it's arguably more self-assured.

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