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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 

Wednesday, Jun 10 2015
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Your new favorite export from the Sundance-industrial complex glows with the heat of festival awards, standing ovations, and distributor bidding wars. It's pretty much one of those "If Wes Anderson directed..." spoofs that make the rounds online, this time wondering what if the quirk maestro had turned his hand to something like The Fault in Our Stars. But there's also a mild epiphany: Oh, hey, that might actually be pretty good. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directs, from Jesse Andrews' adaptation of his own novel. Protagonist Greg (Thomas Mann), a placidly self-loathing teenager, gets through high school by making himself equally invisible to every clique, and by making highly DIY parodies of art-house movie classics (A Sockwork Orange, for instance, with sock puppets). Earl (RJ Cyler), his creative collaborator, is a kid Greg grew up with, and his best friend by default. Then Greg gets to know Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a cancer-afflicted classmate, whose suffering gives him a reason to try something serious and original. Gomez-Rejon can relate, not least because he too seems aware of being stuck in a borrowed, borderline-juvenile vernacular. The wittily acknowledged unreliability of Greg's voiceover narration, the coyly chapterizing screen text, the various camera calisthenics, the typecasting of Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon in cartoonish supporting parts — these gestures could charitably be construed as cinematic descriptions of spazzy adolescent defense mechanisms. It grates a little that the story they serve still amounts to wise-ass white boy having lessons to learn from saintly sick girl and a stoic black boy. But that's made up for by the central trio's maturely sensitive performances, and by a baseline of irrepressibility, which here ultimately seems like a virtue. Making movies is harder than most people realize, as, of course, is having cancer or losing someone to it; willpower matters.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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