Friday, 11 September 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl | Film Review

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, wr. Jesse Andrews, st. Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton

Whatever the problems with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - and there are many and plentiful - it is almost single-handedly saved from the keen edge of a bottomless trench by the charms and graces of the 21-year-old Olivia Cooke who plays the girl of the title. Cooke is relatively new on the scene, but she has made her presence felt in A&E's Psycho prequel series Bates Motel, as well as in a handful of low-key movies. But it's her Rachel Kushner in this film, director Gomez-Rejon's sophomore feature, that tempers the quirk and mitigates the tiresome narcissism on offer.

The "Me" of the film is Greg Gaines (Mann), whose voice it is that narrates his redemptive story. Greg bemoans the fact that he doesn't feel that he fits in anywhere, a dab hand as he is at ingratiating himself with the various clashing cliques at his Pittsburgh high school in order to fend off isolation. He's "colleagues" (for calling him a "friend" stresses him out apparently) with Earl (Cyler), with whom he makes whimsical Andersonian lo-fi film pastiches on his MacBook. On strict instructions from his mother (Britton), Greg is coerced into making friends with recently leukaemia-stricken Rachel, a girl in whom Cooke manages to perfectly convey the weary sense of worn-down injustice. What starts out as a bout of contrived charity soon blossoms, or at least is supposed to, into a genuine friendship, and soon Greg is sharing his movies - and Earl - with the dying girl.

The problem with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is in that first pronoun. Greg's mother might be a touch overbearing (although anyone with parents will recognise that actually, she really isn't), and his dad, played with reduced trademark facial hair by Nick Offerman, may be a little too Polyphonic Spree for his liking, but he's hardly afflicted. Yet the film isn't so much about the girl - by far the most interesting character in this narrative - as it is concerned with Greg's plight of adolescent ennui and self-loathing. He doesn't deserve the affections and attention of a bright and beautiful girl, he deserves a royal kick in the pants. Yet the film trundles on with the tortured teenager plot-line, culminating in a scene of the most extraordinary arrogance in which Greg screens his latest movie (supposedly for Rachel but you wouldn't know it) on her hospital bed just as she's knocking on death's door. 

While none of this is an issue with the performers per se, there's something unedifying about ill girls providing an emotional crutch for cocky boys. And while nothing here quite tops the surreal and suspiciously tasteless scene in The Fault In Our Stars that has a tourist-load of strangers applauding Hazel and Augustus' kiss at the Anne Frank House, the spectre of ego never seems far away. The film makes no concession to concealing the ultimate fate of its heroine, but you can't help but feel in spite of her illness, she still gets a pretty raw deal, and that's what turns this potentially compelling film about love and reliance and intimate camaraderie into an exercise in schoolboy vanity.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Trainwreck | Film Review

Trainwreck, dir. Judd Apatow, wr. Amy Schumer, st. Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller

Judd Apatow may have made a name for himself producing such bromance ribaldry of the likes of Knocked Up and Superbad, but arguably his biggest hit came from curating the overflowing talent from the various female comics he assembled for 2011's Bridesmaids. The movie was a huge success, principally for just being as funny as heck, but also for subverting a genre usually reserved for the guys - a bunch of friends doing their thing unburdened by the weight of the patriarchy. It's no surprise then that he returns to this kind of platform-gifting - this time, to Amy Schumer. Trainwreck is ostensibly a feature-length amalgamation of Schumer's Comedy Central sketch-based TV show Inside Amy Schumer (of which several of her co-stars return here) and her 2012 stand-up special Mostly Sex Stuff. Fans of her work will be contented with more of what they love, but Trainwreck exposes her to a much wider audience.

The script - Schumer's own - finds her playing a version of her meticulously crafted persona, Amy Townsend, a girl who routinely gets drunk or stoned (or both) and falls into bed with the nearest available guy. Her one rule is that she never lets the guys stay over. It's her way of facilitating her detachment, but, as we see from a flashback that prefaces the film, it also stems from her father explaining to her and her sister about the collapse of his marriage to their mother. "Imagine only playing with one doll for the rest of your life!" he tells them. Amy's sister Kim (Larson) has managed to escape such indoctrination, finding happiness with nice, normal Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and his son, but the pair are torn over their father's assisted living bills. Perpetuating Amy's mindset is the fact she works at S'nuff magazine (imagine Nuts, Loaded and Zoo all joining forces to form one unholy publication) were she trots out "journalism" that caters to the public appetite for misogyny. At one staff meeting, editor Dianna, played with immense ferocity under near-unrecognisable tan and accent by Swinton, suggests someone interview Aaron Conners (Hader - another Comedy Central alumnus), sports doctor to the stars. Amy hates sports which Dianna of course finds irresistible and insists Amy do the piece. 

Naturally, you can see where this is heading. Aaron, with Hader dialling it down a few notches, is a winningly straightforward guy, constantly needled as he is by one of his star clients LeBron James, who with shades of Annie Wilkes, is obsessively concerned with his friend's welfare. As rom-coms go, Trainwreck satisfies, but its greatest failing is that it never truly demonstrates the courage of its convictions. After having set up Amy's insecurities and selfishness against her sister having found contentment and peace despite their shared upbringing, the slip of a third act rushes through a stock ending (with a big dance number no less) that dilutes all that's gone before. From a Studio perspective of course, Trainwreck isn't too subversive in its structure to unsettle its audience, but it might have been a greater film if it had. To its credit, Schumer's Amy is as easy to root for as Wiig's Annie in Bridesmaids and shares many of the latter actor's comedic smarts. But it's only Larson who lends the film any serious dramatic weight, such is her ability to command a scene, and there's a nagging feeling that her character feels excluded over the promotion of the film's star. Schumer's film then is quite watchable, not the disaster its title bestows upon its protagonist, but be prepared for the scenery to be more engaging than the destination.