Better than the Real Thing: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Sometimes, watching the trailer is better than the real thing. Within two minutes, some previews get you so excited for a movie that you count down the days until it’s released in the theater and you immediately buy a ticket for the day it comes out. And then? Disappointment, generally.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the award-winning (and crowd-pleasing) Sundance film that was reportedly offered  a record-breaking $12 million for the distribution rights – although they apparently went with a different deal. It’s pretty typical indie fare – weird parents, quirky characters (like a heavily tattooed Jon Bernthal as a history teacher with the catchphrase “Respect the research”), self-consciously composed mise-en-scene and offbeat narration. It mostly succeeds at what it wants to do – tell a story about teenagers having to grow up too quickly in a situation they didn’t ask for – and has a particularly poignant message about how much we can still learn about a person after they have passed away.

But the film itself isn’t as good as its trailer. Check it out below:

The trailer hits all the right beats (and quirk) of the story, without overwhelming the emotions of the story itself. The actual film gets a bit too bogged down in cutesy details – Greg’s narration keeps reminding us that “it’s not a romantic story” and is transparently manipulative and self-conscious, the film relies a bit too much on the Criterion Collection parodies which stretches an already-thin joke to its limit, and the cutaway claymation scenes are overused that they induce eye rolls rather than laughs every time a subsequent one occurs.

The emotional wallop of the film is dulled because Greg is so self-absorbed and guarded that he doesn’t let any vulnerability through. When it comes time to express something other than sarcasm or cynicism, it doesn’t feel genuine. The film spends too much time building up the arms-length nature of Greg’s relationships (like calling Earl a “co-worker” rather than a friend) but neglects to include scenes of his defenses being incrementally torn down to let people in (at the end of the movie, I think Earl is still considered his “co-worker” rather than his friend).  Greg spends so much time proclaiming that he doesn’t care, that when the time comes that he does care, we treat it with a shrug because it’s too late. Think of a rendition of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is miserly for three-quarters of the story and then undergoes a miraculous conversion to a kind and generous soul without being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. It just feels false and you can see the screenwriter pulling the character’s strings.

That trailer though – easily worth the $12 million.

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