It’s been interesting to see lately how teen movies are shifting away from the raunchy, American Pie type of sex comedies that have been prevalent since the late 90s towards a more serious, “grown-up” sensibility that hasn’t been very popular since the 80s era of films like Say Anything . . . & The Breakfast Club (or anything by John Hughes, really). Newer films like Dope, White Bird in a Blizzard, and an endless list of John Green adaptations have all reached for a more emotionally resonant, less detached brand of teen media, all with varying degrees of success. The recent Sundance-favorite Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is painfully aware of this trend and attempts to both play along with & subvert serious teen movie earnestness. It fails on both counts. By pretending to be above the emotional vulnerability of John Green adaptations while dabbling in the very same overreaching narcissism & sentimentality, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl creates an all new kind of inflammatory teen movie monster, one with both unique & clichéd reasons to be derided.
If Me & Earl & The Dying Girl is trying to interact with its earnest teen cinema pedigree in any deliberate way, it’s at the very least echoing elements of the John Green cancer-romance drama The Fault in Our Stars. As opposed to the John Green aesthetic where Everything Means Everything & teens struggle with the overwhelming significance of everyday existence, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl shrugs off the emotional weight of a teen dying of leukemia and proposes that nothing means anything at all. It’s not endearing. The film’s protagonist, the titular Me, drifts through life without any concern for anything outside himself. An all-star navel gazer, Me (often referred to as “Greg” for some reason) finds zero significance in any of life’s little ups or downs and tries to keep it all very casual, unless of course the subject at hand is himself, in which case it’s of the upmost importance. This could be an interesting character trait if the movie surrounding him didn’t have the exact same fascination with Me, despite the wide range of infinitely more fascinating characters surrounding him.
The level of self-absorption in Me & Earl & The Dying Girl (alternately titled Me, Me, Me & Me) is so out of control that the central conflict is not whether or not The Dying Girl survives leukemia, but whether or not Me gets to go to college. The least interesting character in this film gets the first, middle, and last word, steamrolling any possible character development outside himself with his overbearingly bland omnipresence. There’s a scene late in the film where Me discovers that his Dying Girl friend has an artistic side she neglected to express to him directly. According to Me’s (& the movie’s) logic this is because Dying Girl was intentionally keeping her artistry private. The truth is, of course, that Me never shut up about himself for two consecutive minutes, so Dying Girl never had a chance to get a word in edgewise. Along with Me’s depressed stoner dad, Dying Girl’s white wine enthusiast mother, the titties & Criterion Collection obsessed Earl of the title, and a selfless former bad boy history teacher, Dying Girl is just one of many fascinating characters that are shamefully allowed to fade into the background while Me blathers on about Me, Me, Me & Me. The best scene in the film (& one of Dying Girl’s most prized memories) is a glorious, but all too brief stretch where Me finally shuts up because he is high & eating a popsicle.
This Is The Part Where I Explain That The Movie Is Not Only Narratively Bankrupt, But Also Stylistically Horrendous. Me, Me, Me & Me is broken up by annoying chapter titles similar to the first sentence of this paragraph and that’s far from the only instance of its stylistic overreaching. The film mostly borrows from familiar visual sources like Wes Anderson & Michel Gondry, often deviating into stop motion animation & Be Kind Rewind-style “Sweded” versions of Criterion Collection films. One of the worst mistakes Me, Me, Me, & Me makes is constantly reminding you of better media you could be filling your time with: The 400 Blows, The Red Shoes, Modest Mouse, etc. The movie does find its own visual language & metaphorical exploration in objects like scissors, pillows, and hand-drawn, Criterion-themed DVD covers, but their significance amounts to little more than inside jokes. Most of what the film accomplishes visually has been done before, better & many times over.
Like when I saw b I of course got the nagging feeling that no matter how much enjoyment I could pull from this movie, there was going to be a very specific target audience who connected to it even more. The difference is that Dope was at the very least entertaining to an outsider, while this film will only be entertaining to Me and all the Me’s in the audience, whoever they are. All I can say at this point is that I didn’t particularly care whether or not Me got into college, which seemed to be the main point of the film, so I guess it was a failure overall & I very much look forward to never spending any more time or energy on Me in the future. Hats off to the other characters & members of the audience who have more patience for Me’s incessant pondering on the nature of Me. I just didn’t have it in me.