Teenage boys have it tough. No one talks about it – because boys don’t talk about it - but if you’re a teenage boy you’re not allowed to love anything. It’s the law.
magine what that’s like. If you’re vocal about loving something, you get a kicking. If you like something, you get a kicking. In fact, expressing anything other than a mild fondness for a kicking gets you a kicking. This rejection of natural instinct fosters a faux toughness and instils an emotional distance right at the worst time.
nd it’s this that Jesse Andrews’ screenplay (an adaption of his own YA novel) for Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl taps into – the boy who is too afraid to feel/want anything lest he be ostracised.
reg (an entertaining Mann) has made it through high school by being on nodding terms with everyone, never committing to one social clique, never really connecting with anyone. He even calls his best friend Earl (wonderfully deadpan Cyler) a ‘co-worker’, pretending that their relationship is based merely on their collaboration on terrible home movies. This approach has ensured survival… so far. But when Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forces him to hang out with Leukaemia suffer Rachel (beautifully underplayed by Cooke) his emotionally stunted world changes…
nitially Me and Earl and the Dying Girl behaves like Greg. It bounces around, has a giggle, and never really gets stuck into anything. It’s a distracted movie, turning its attention to this and that and the other: the stoned sequence, the rundown of the guys’ movies (I would pay good money to see The 400 Bros and My Dinner With Andre The Giant) but never really gets involved. But when it does, it does so unexpectedly.
ndrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon do things slightly differently. Despite Greg’s voiceover nothing is laid out - there’s always a hint that there’s more going on underneath the surface. How does Rachel feel about her mother’s (a terrific turn from Molly Shannon) drinking? Why is Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman) always at home in a bathrobe? These questions go unanswered – there are no grand speeches, no outpouring of emotions, no Big Movie Scene – but there is an unspoken understanding. Avoiding the cloying sentimentality of similarly themed The Fault In Our Stars, Gomez-Rejon leans more on an irreverent Wes Anderson style – the quirk, the matter-of-fact narration, the division of the story into chapters.
et maybe this dodging of convention leads to …Dying Girl stopping just short from being the film it could have been. It’s funny… but not hilarious. It’s touching… but not a tearjerker. Quite possibly this is deft filmmaking on Andrew and Gomez-Rejon’s part: if the movie and Greg are one and the same and has kept the audience at a safe emotional distance, then it’s difficult to suddenly feel something when the movie unexpectedly springs forth with emotion.
But it’s good. Real good. ("He likes it! Get him!")