Indie sensation ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ is smug and self-serving

Imagine a nerdy The Fault in Our Stars, only with much less sincerity.

Two stars

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Near the end of the movie, the dying girl (named Rachel) of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl chastises the main character for his “over-the-top humility,” and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film version of Jesse Andrews’ novel (which won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) has the same problem. Like teenage protagonist Greg (Thomas Mann), it’s so relentlessly self-deprecating that it ends up being self-aggrandizing. It’s a humblebrag of a movie.

Initially, though, it’s at least somewhat clever, in its lighter, funnier first half, as the sullen, awkward Greg reluctantly befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke) at the behest of his meddling mother (an underused Connie Britton). Greg and his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler), whom he refers to only as a “co-worker,” make pastiches of classic films that are crosses between the “sweded” movies of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind and the plays Max Fischer puts on in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Gomez-Rejon demonstrates some of the worst traits of those filmmakers, with cutesy interludes of stop-motion animation and showy camera work that often distracts from the drama.

As Rachel’s leukemia gets worse, the movie turns into a film-nerd version of The Fault in Our Stars, only with much less sincerity. Rachel and especially Earl exist mainly to prop up Greg’s trite journey of self-discovery, and his big emotional moments arrive without any real impact. What started as a mildly funny if overly self-satisfied comedy ends up as a disingenuous tearjerker, as phony as one of Greg and Earl’s home movies.

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