Friday, July 3, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


Review by Joseph Anthony

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL feels so familiar. It’s as if Wes Anderson’s spirit and Michel Gondry’s BE KIND, REWIND met up with THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. That is to say, ME AND EARL feels like a hybrid of a quirky art film and an accessible indie teen film.

The “Me” in ME AND EARL is Greg (Thomas Mann), a high schooler who stays on the outskirts of high school subgroups – but in everyone’s good graces. He can be creative, intellectual, high-spirited, melancholy, whatever the situation dictates. Greg is happy to not call anyone his friend, while at the same getting along with everyone.


The closest Greg has to a friend is Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg comes from an upper-middle class family with hip parents, perfectly played by Connie Britton (NASHVILLE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY) and Nick Offerman (PARKS AND RECREATION). Earl comes from the rougher side of town. We don’t see much about Earl except his family is economically poor and his brother sits outside with his bulldog, constantly ridiculing Greg.

Nevertheless, Earl and Greg find out they have a lot in common from the time they are little kids. They like exotic foods (often introduced by Greg’s eccentric father), foreign art films and hanging out in their cool history teacher’s office for lunch. Greg and Earl also enjoy making short parody films based on classics and changing the title to something juvenile, such as A Sockwork Orange, A Senior Citizen Kane and 2:48P.M. Cowboy (instead of MIDNIGHT COWBOY). Their takes on classic films provide nonstop giggles. 

The true heart of the film, however, is “The Dying Girl,” Rachel, played soulfully by Olivia Cooke (she was also great in last year’s THE SIGNAL). Rachel, who goes to school with Greg and Earl but doesn’t really know them, is diagnosed with cancer. Because Rachel’s mom (Molly Shannon) is a friend of Greg’s mom, Greg is forced (totally against his will) to go and hang out with Rachel. Though awkward at first, the two pretty quickly hit it off. Soon his pity visits turn into a real relationship. Their relationship is never romantic or over the top, but genuine. Throughout the film, Greg points out all the moments where you might think something cinematic and exciting will happen, but doesn’t, because that’s not what life is like.  

As the title implies, the film mainly revolves around these three characters and this moment in their lives. The film also ponders the big ideas of what it means to fit in and when it’s okay to take risks. It’s a film that looks at all of life’s relationships and their complexities. Cinematic ideas that seem like well-worn territory, yet ME AND EARL make those questions feel new.

The film was adapted from Jesse Andrew’s 2012 novel by the same title. Andrew also wrote the screenplay, his first screenplay, and it’s a terrific one. The film supplies great moments, from watching Greg write his college admission letter from the dreary perspective of filmmaker Werner Herzog, to Greg and Earl suspecting their history teacher puts drugs in his soup (and the fun that results from it). 

The film also boasts strong dialogue, likable characters, and a wonderful pace. The direction is also excellent, led by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who until this point has mostly done television in the form of GLEE and AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The filmmaking radiates with love, signifying that those who made it truly cared for the material.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL feels familiar, like we may have seen this movie before, but we haven’t. It finds something new to say while making us laugh, cry and think about what is that is important in life. 4 stars out of 4

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