Beanstalk-tall and seemingly boneless, Greg Gaines (Project X’s Thomas Mann) is that guy who skims across the surface of high school, friendly with everyone but close to no one. Instead he spends endless hours with his equally solitary “co-worker” Earl (RJ Cyler), reimagining art-house-cinema classics with pun-drunk titles—A Sockwork Orange, Death in Tennis—and pocket-lint production values.
The teenage-Truffaut act is working out fairly well for him until the day his mother (Connie Britton, lovely but underused) pushes him to reach out to a cancer-stricken classmate he hardly knows. Rachel (Olivia Cooke) isn’t psyched either; she’s uninterested in pity and initially as wary as he is. But they both need to connect more than they need to stay cool, and a friendship blooms.
The movie, adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own award-winning YA novel, took home a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year. So it’s not entirely surprising that its preternaturally wise, Pussy Riot-referencing kids and kooky adults (including Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, and The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal) can feel less like real people than like a canny writer’s audience-courting inventions. Andrews’ brand of adorkability is an acquired taste, and a hurdle that viewers with a low tolerance for twee—you either have the Juno gene or you don’t—probably won’t clear.
But somewhere along the way Earl eases up on the suburban–Wes Anderson whimsy and starts to find its heart, infusing the story’s self-conscious cleverness and trick-shot set pieces with something sweeter, sadder, and even a little bit profound. In other words, it grows up. B+