Film

Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Self-Aware And Manipulative Film That’s Totally Saved By Its Cast:

 

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton

Reviewed by: Steph Harmon

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a smart, funny, charming middle class white teenager who has spent high school trying to fit in with every clique, and who has sacrificed building (or acknowledging) his own friendships along the way. When a girl from school (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mum pressures him to spend time with her, and he ends up bringing his “co-worker” Earl (RJ Cyler) along – a black kid from the poorer side of town, and the only other person Greg hangs out with. Since they were children, Greg and Earl have spent every lunch break watching films, and every weekend making them; and when the hot girl Madison cajoles them into making one for Rachel before she dies, Greg is powerless to resist. Dappled with on-trend pop cultural references and crafty stop-motion animations, meaningful connections and life-lessons ensue.

There you have the set-up for the most cliché’d sounding Y.A.-novel-cum-indie-film since The Fault In Our Stars; the only thing that can save it from itself is self-awareness, right? Well, director Gomez-Rejon certainly hopes so, imbuing the film with as much meta-commentary and semi-ironic title slides as he can. And — thanks in no small part to the incredible performances from the three title actors, who manage to turn twee into tender, hilarious and relatable — it kind of works.

Based on a 2012 book by Jesse Andrews, the movie has been criticised in part for being manipulative, and in part for treating Greg’s two friends with lazy broad strokes: Rachel, whose physical resemblance to Natalie Portman doesn’t help the Manic Pixie Dream Dying Girl veneer of her character; and Earl who, unlike Greg, has actual problems, but whose role – despite a moving and magnetic performance from Cyler — seems to be limited to being cryptically aloof, delivering “blaccented” one-liners, and mystically showing the self-obsessed white protagonist the error of his ways. (Particularly problematically, the film spends a good chunk focused on what Greg will do after high school; Earl’s future doesn’t even get a look-in.)

I’m inclined to give the film a little more credit, though. In the most dramatic reveal, Greg comes to realise he’s spent his teenage life obsessing over his own miniscule problems, and ignoring the inner-worlds of those around him. Reading it like that, the two-dimensionality of Rachel, Earl and even Greg’s parents — played by the sensational coupling of Connie Britton and Nick Offerman — become an indictment of the lead character’s limited perception, not of the film-maker’s.

For fans of: Napoleon Dynamite, crafternoons, physical humour, YA fiction, Nick Offerman relentlessly cuddling a cat

Opening in Australia: September 3

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