Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

A hit from Sundance, this coming-of-age movie arrives with all the quirks, kooks and tics of a gawky teenager, a film that can’t quite look you in the eyes or talk without stammering.

Me and Early and the Dying Girl *** is a high-school movie, about Greg (Thomas Man), the kid who doesn’t quite fit in with all the usual “nations” within the school. He instead makes little movies with his black friend Earl, skits on the art house movies they like: 400 Bros, Death in Tennis, Senior Citizen Cane, Breathe Less and A Sockwork Orange (which is, literally, sock puppets drinking a glass of orange juice).

Some of these little bits are quite funny and certainly would make a cinephilic audience giggle. But there are also little twiddly bits of animation made out of plasticine or wool (a moose stamps on a chipmunk every time the pretty girl from Greg’s class walks by) and the screen wipes with chapter headings: The Part Where I Meet The Dying Girl.

Greg’s parents force him to meet with a girl in his class, Rachel, who’s been diagnosed with leukaemia. She’s played by the excellent rising British actress Olivia Cooke (she’s from Oldham, would you believe) and she brings a real heart to the movie, although of course, this being an indie movie, she’s a bit ‘manic pixie dream girl’, wearing dungarees and, when the chemo kicks in, a variety of kooky hats and even looking super cool when bald.

Maybe that’s why Brian Eno contributes some of the music to this film – he’s a patron saint of bald people. So is Moby.

To be fair, the movie is about a search for authenticity. Greg tries to make a movie for Rachel and struggles to find his own voice, rather than pastiching the auteurs he so admires. There’s a heartfelt effort to come up with something true, that’s not shrouded in irony or smart-assness. Yet the film does succumb to that very fault too, forever skipping off on tangents and doodles, which I found rather cut the emotional arc and, by the time the teary stuff sets in – on prom night, natch – it has gotten dreary instead.

I liked it well enough though, despite its restlessness, its debutant lack of confidence – however, I suspect many, too many, will find it tiresome, quirksome and then some.