** stars (out of four)
Moviegoers made The Fault in Our Stars a big hit last year. It’s a fairly well-made piece of schmaltz that at least attempts to deal with the emotional wreckage caused when a young person is dying of cancer. But since it did well, audiences are now seemingly going to be subjected to a new sub-genre of quirky dying teen movies.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school student who opts out of making any friends except Earl (RJ Cyler), an African-American boy he makes movies with. The movies are just short parodies of classic films. A few of the titles are funny, but most of them consist of the boys just recreating films on a low budget. It’s repeated throughout the film, and often isn’t funny.
Greg’s mom forces him to hang out with her friend’s daughter Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has leukemia. They develop a friendship, lessons are learned, etc. The movie’s problems are many: it often reeks of quirk for quirk’s sake, the supporting characters have one trait and that’s it, and the story uses Rachel’s tragedy primarily as a vehicle to make Greg a better person. The best version of this film would have given equal weight to Greg, Earl, and Rachel. But Earl and Rachel are rendered one-dimensional assistants to Greg’s growth.
There are a few good moments that hint at the film that might have been. It’s really at its best when it allows itself to be serious instead of quirky and “funny.” But that’s not the route it takes.