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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

Ted 2

July 2, 2015

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl (** ½) PG-13

This year’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner at the 2015 Sundance film festival, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, suffers from the same problems that plagued—for this reviewer, at least—the 2007 film Juno. This film reminded me more than once of that critical darling penned by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, in that it spends so much of the time wearing its independent film credentials on its sleeve that it forgets to give the audience characters that are fully dimensional. The characters in the film instead come off as caricatures instead of people, a problem that dogged the film for its entire running time. Sure, it’s funny from time to time and has some decent moments scattered about, but it still failed to move me in the way that I’m sure the filmmakers intended. You know you’re in trouble when a film that’s designed to pull the tear ducts leaves you curiously stone faced instead.

The Me of the film’s title would be Greg (Thomas Mann). Greg relates, mostly via voiceover, the film’s tale. We learn that Greg’s mom has enlisted him to cheer up, Rachel (Olivia Cooke).

Oliva Cooke, Thomas Mann & R.J. Cyler in ‘Earl’

She’s a classmate Greg doesn’t really know but, nevertheless, feels a sense of duty to entertain since she’s recently been diagnosed with leukemia.

Greg’s hobby is making movie parodies with his co-conspirator, Earl (R.J. Cyler), an African American kid who we are told is not his friend but just a filmmaking collaborator. Earl lives on the wrong side of town but shares the same passion for the movies that Greg has coursing through his veins, after being fed a constant cinema diet by his hippy dippy professor father as a child. The duo of Earl and Greg spend most of their time concocting films with such titles as Senior Citizen Kane, Anatomy of a Burger and 2:48 Cowboy. Eventually Earl suggests that it might be a good idea to make a film especially for Rachel in order to cheer her up, although Greg isn’t quite so sure that he’s up to the task. This essentially forms the crux of the film’s plot.

The best parts of the film are the constant movie parodies and film references that appear throughout the movie. One’s movie knowledge—or lack thereof—definitely will determine how much you enjoy the film’s best jokes. An audience member next to me sat unsmiling throughout the faux films, leaving me to wonder how much of this is going to go over with mainstream audiences.

The film does build to an emotional climax, if you’re wondering, but the end of the film feels curiously hollow and falsely manipulative. It’s as if the film was so intent on giving us Greg’s point of view that they forgot to build convincing sentiment for the other film’s characters. There’s great potential here that unfortunately goes unfulfilled, and that’s really too bad. 

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl is playing in Charlotte.

Ted 2 (***) R

Much like the first installment of Ted, some three years ago, there’s really one thing that needs to be stressed before advising someone to go see Ted 2 or to stay away from it completely. Simply put, it is advisable that one needs to have some knowledge and appreciation of the type of humor that co-writer/director Seth MacFarlane employs in his films and television endeavors (Family Guy, American Dad, etc.). If it isn’t your cup of tea then you shouldn’t even consider darkening the door of the local multiplex screen to see Ted 2. To say that MacFarlane’s humor is an acquired taste is an understatement.

Now having gotten that out of the way, I’ll readily admit my prejudices and let it be known that I think MacFarlane is one of the great comedic voices in our current pop culture climate. I guess that’s why it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed Ted 2 in spite of being under whelmed by MacFarlane’s last big screen endeavor, A Million Ways to Die in the West, proof that even the great ones stumble from time to time and can easily recover.

Ted 2 doesn’t have the same amount of on-target gags that the original film contained but it hits more than it misses.

Jessica Barth & Ted in Ted 2

It does get to be a little preachy in its final act with its progressive message and pleas for tolerance amongst the humorous proceedings, but for those of us who dig MacFarlane’s act this won’t be a problem. No target is too sacred and there are gags of questionable taste involving such topics as Robin Williams’ suicide and 9/11, to name a few.

The film essentially picks up where the original left off with Mark Wahlberg’s character John having recently gone through a divorce that’s left him somewhat stung and bitter. Ted (again voiced by MacFarlane), however, is having domestic problems of his own after tying the knot with Tami Lynn (Jessica Barth) and finding out that married life has it own set of complications. Ted decides that maybe the best answer to the couple’s dilemma is to have a child. Problem is that Ted has no reproductive organs and the couple must either adopt or go the insemination route. The latter provides the basis for several of MacFarlane’s scatological gags of which he is best known. Suffice it to say that if the sight of Wahlberg covered in sperm offends…well, let’s just leave it there.

Tami Lynn and Ted eventually run into more problems when it’s discovered that the couple can’t adopt unless Ted can prove that he has human qualities. John then finds a love interest in a lawyer played by Amanda Seyfried who agrees to take the case. It’s at that point that the film’s political bend comes into play and things take a bit of a detour.

It all leads to a rousing finale, however, with all the main characters winding up in a comedic free for all at a Comic Con. That set piece alone was worth my time and was one of the reasons why Ted 2 was one of the brighter spots of my summer movie going season thus far.

Ted 2 is playing everywhere.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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