Indie sensation Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a proven crowd-pleaser, with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film’s easy, cutesy humour and plethora of classic movie references earning it Audience Awards at Sydney and Sundance. It’s certainly entertaining enough. But the exceedingly twee title also hints at its incessant solipsism, with the “Me” of the title – Greg (Thomas Mann) – looming large.
Greg’s a self-involved teenager with Josh-Thomas-esque charm, abundent talent and zero confidence. His friends, Earl (RJ Cyler), a black teenager cobbled together from tired clichés, and “the Dying Girl”, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), recently diagnosed with leukaemia, are mere satellites orbiting Greg on his trajectory towards adulthood. Their characters are underwritten, granted personality only through Cyler and Cooke’s performances and an inevitable gearshift into maudlin emotion.
Earl and Rachel’s marginalisation is likely intentional; the story is framed as Greg’s college application. However that awareness comes without any interrogation of said self-centredness. Even though I can identify with Greg as a self-obsessed, cinema-obsessed nerd, it’s hard to understand why we should be trapped inside his mundane worldview. Unfortunately, Werner Herzog impersonations and cute kittens can’t distract from a lack of substantial characterisation. Much like his protagonist, Gomez-Rejon needs to broaden his perspective.