The ‘Citizen Kane’ of teen cancer tearjerkers, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s funny and bruising second movie is like ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ remade for arthouse movie-lovers. Ostensibly spun from the same cloth as most YA dramas, the film latches on to an average high-school kid named Greg (Thomas Mann) who spends all of his time making parody versions of classic films (like ‘Eyes Wide Butts’ and ‘The 400 Bros’) with his ‘co-worker’ Earl (excellent newcomer RJ Cyler).
The videos are a great expression of Greg’s cinephilia, but what’s the use in making so many movies if none of them are truly his own? Conveniently for Greg, a local girl named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has just been diagnosed with leukaemia, and there’s no greater catalyst for a teenage male movie character to truly discover himself than that.
Despite an occasionally stilted pace and a few cartoonish touches (Molly Shannon as Rachel’s sexually frustrated mum clashes with the rest of the film), ‘Earl’ develops a rare emotional heft, particularly when Rachel pressures Greg to make an original film for her. The project forces him to eclipse his influences and risk doing something that puts his real self on the line, and the film follows suit. Thanks to its visual dexterity and a brilliant soundtrack of Brian Eno tunes (Gomez-Rejon is a former assistant to Martin Scorsese and it shows), this spirited but safely familiar pastiche of John Hughes and Wes Anderson is eventually compelled to become its own thing, embracing the most tired tropes of YA weepies so that it can kiss them goodbye.