Brought to you by the Werner Herzog Appreciation Fan Club. So this is about a loner high school senior named Greg (Thomas Mann). His mother forces him to hang out with a girl that has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (Olivia Cooke). They learn a lot about each other and, in turn, find out much about themselves. This has been making its rounds on the festival circuit as a critical darling, and I’ve heard good things, so I said to myself, “why not” and sat down to give this a chance. Upon much digestion, I will say that this is inspired, but it is not without its problems.
The thing that this film reminds me of most is Be Kind Rewind, a well meaning, but somewhat lacking movie. Instead of sweded films, our protagonist and best friend make parody shorts, like Senior Citizen Cane, The 400 Bros and Rosemary Baby Carrots. Now I will say this as a mark against this movie: this is film that thinks that it’s clever, and it was made by people that fancy themselves to be of the witty variety, and they truly advertise it on their sleeves. They never pass on an opportunity to make an obscure foreign film reference, and you do reach a point where you want to tell the director, “we get it, you really like Burden of Dreams.” I found all the references that this film made to be distracting, and I felt that it ended up getting in the way of the story. I don’t like using the word ‘pretentious’, because it’s a word that I feel gets unjustly overused, and I won’t go so far to use that label here, either… but it’s in the same ballpark.
What this movie really has going for it is the filmmaking. Regardless of how I feel about the constant references, the cinematography is innovative and inspired, and for that alone, I award points. I also like every one of the side characters; you have great character actors like Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal and even Molly Shannon who all show up to turn in solid performances. Newcomers RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke also fill out the cast as well, making their mark and leaving you with something memorable. You may notice that I said that I liked every one of the “side characters.” What about the lead? Well, if I am being honest here, I kind of hated Greg, which is a shame, because he’s the protagonist, and it’s his story. He’s whiny, he’s a wuss, and he has a pretty good life that he kvetches about constantly. He’s such an angst-filled teenager, I could never relate to him, and I never at any point liked him. I thought this movie was for me, so maybe I had set my expectations too high. It’s a good effort, but I feel like this tried too hard in all the wrong places.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) ***
– Critic for Hire