Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

THIS IS THE PART THAT I BEGIN MY REVIEW AND INTRODUCE THE FILM WITH A CLEVER HOOK

You would never think that a title with the words “dying girl” would be the most buzzed about film at Sundance 2015, causing a bidding war that would eventually be won by Fox Searchlight Pictures for a whopping $12 million, the largest distribution purchase in the history of the fest. But alas, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a true testament to the power of YA pop culture, and a young adult film infused with the current obsession with cancer-driven teen fiction. 

Following in the footsteps of the widely popular The Fault in Our Stars and my personal favourite cancer-comedy 50/50, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a mix of both, with a hint of 500 Days of Summer in for good indie measure.

Thankfully, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is miles ahead of the aforementioned Stars and is easily one of the most wryly self-aware and raucously comedic films of the year.

The ironic aspect of Me and Earl is that cancer has never really been at the front-row of comedy in the real world. Although it is one of the most devastating diseases of our time, consuming the lives of many loved ones, cancer, in this instance, sets up one of the most endearing and authentic cinematic friendships seen on screen, in a very long time.

Now if you are all thinking, how in the hell is a film about a very pending friendship between two boys and a girl recently diagnosed with leukaemia one of the funniest and best films of the year? All I’d have to say is “Respect the Research” and find out for yourself.

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THIS IS THE PART WHERE I EXPLAIN MY COMMENTARIES ON THE FILM

One of the many (and I’m talking about a ton) charms of Me and Earl is its ability to share so many universal and relatable truths to its audience. The fact remains, Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke) is a seventeen-year old girl who is recently diagnosed with Leukaemia. Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is a smart-talking, quick responding, social leper who has serious issues with the word friendship and a great appreciation for hipster and event-garde culture (including Warhol, Herzog and B-films). Earl (RJ Cyler), the innocent by-stander in all of this, is your typical high-schooler who obsesses mostly with “titties”.  Yet, these three unique characters and the serious and lighthearted issues they face in a small Pittsburg high school offer some of the most insightful and emotional responses from an audience in the year 2015.

Based on Jesse Andrews’ book of the same name, the author was able to adapt his own book into a screenplay, keeping its infectious charm and wit intact. Luckily for us, Andrews’ book has been described as a book made to be read by anyone; anyone who has gone to high school, anyone who has lost someone they love, or grew up with a family, or has wondered what life is all about.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a sophomore feature following his debut horror film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, the film blends a very inauspicious mix of quirk at first by beginning the story with an abundance of stop-motion animation, flashbacks, and some very obvious film-school favourites including; the long take; pans; and long shots. Rejon, who began his career as a personal assistant to Martin Scorsese, shows his range as a charming director who is able to not only amp up the quirk factor, but also get the best performances from his actors and characters to help narrate the story to uncontrollable moments of laughter. Much like its main character Greg (Thomas Mann) and his inability to obtain normal friendships or accept the obvious classes created in any high school setting, Rejon embraces the main essence of Andrews’ novel, loss and love and stays true to its unique nerdiness, owning every second of it.

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THIS IS THE PART WHERE I…TALK

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and for the most part, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is easily one of the most satisfying films of 2015, and not for the usual ingredients that make an indie film so great either. While most indie films are applauded and hailed for their quirky soundtracks, incredible acting discoveries, and new finds, Me and Earl has an interesting quality of brining back the old, and making it cool again. Rejon, an obvious film enthusiast and lover of classics (Criterion quality to B-movie selections) sends great satisfaction of allowing his feature of reminiscing on these classic films in a fringe-type cinematic wet dream. His rehashing, mockery yet clear praise and reference to classic films shows his great admiration and love for film as a whole. While Greg and Earl half-heartedly remake some of their favourtite films, we get a clear sense of what makes them great friends, their ability to embrace their immaturity and playfulness. Rejon pulls it off through and through, that boys will be boys, while Mann and Cyler really hit that notion out of the par throughout each scene.

While death is the overwhelming factor in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the film becomes less about death, the tragedy of loss and the morbid reality of sadness and more a remembrance of good memories, happy times, sad times, and the emotions they easily illicit to us. Rejon easily proves himself to be a mature director playing with many depths; depths with his storytelling but mostly, the wide range of depths of the emotions he so easily controls masterfully on screen between friends.

Even thought Me and Earl and the Dying Girl could easily be hailed as one of the most authentic high school films of this generation, instead it settles for great film overall, Rejon’s labour of love becomes more than an observation of high school social classes. The film becomes a modern day youth parable without ever manipulating itself to becoming something you’d expect to see, and unlike anything you’ve seen in a while, never playing with the expectations of high school social classes, stigmas or stereotypes.

In addition to its director, much of the film’s praise needs to be given to its cast. From the picturesque Connie Britton who plays Greg’s pitch perfect Pittsburg mother, to Greg’s father played by Nick Offerman, to Rachel’s mother played by the once tree licking superstar Molly Shannon, to the highly unlikely tatted up history teacher Mr.McCarthy played by the once zombie-kicking badass anti-hero Jon Bernthal, Rejon does a fantastic job of stripping down his stars to play real people; people we believe in, people we empathized with and most of all people we fall in love with and cry with together.

Three of the best characters in the film undoubtedly are the film’s main protagonists; the me (Greg), Earl (pretty self explanatory), and the dying girl (Rachel). Never forcing the typical Hollywood emotions and expectations between Greg and Rachel, or adding a love-triangle sub-plot to the mix, the film is plain and simple about friendships; the one’s developed in high school and the ones that could be life-long and effecting. Mann brings the neurotic behaviour of Greg to life in a way that couldn’t be imagined by any other actor. His perfectly timed social insecurities and awkward social placements are spot-on thanks to his high dosages of Gregacil. Cooke on the other hand is compassionate, alluring and her perfect doe-eyed gaze bring the much needed feminine ingredient to the film. Rachel is undoubtedly the heart, sass, and both punches for a knockout one-two punch indie film character.

Thankfully, and given his due diligence, the character who elevates the film to unique Sundance territory and allows the film to stand out more than most comedy-dramas is the character of Earl played by the fun loving R.J Cyler. Cyler, who seemed to be born to play the role of Earl, allows his character to dictate the missing ingredient that is absent in so many independent film productions; a sense of realism. Earl represents a huge demographic of not only current American culture, but also popular culture. Earl’s smart-ass remarks, Vine-generation puns, quick one-liners and humour is one that allows the film to blow past so many other sidekick best friend characters are rise to the top of my list of best friend depictions in a long time, even if he embraces the obvious stigmas of modern Black-American youth. Did I mention that the film is a cesspool of quirk? So imagine all these stereotypes quirked up for good measure.

Olivia Cooke as "Rachel" and Thomas Mann as "Greg" in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Photo by Anne Marie Fox. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

THIS IS THE PART WHERE I SLOWLY FINISH MY THOUGHTS

Much like the deepest life lesson the film so heavily narrates, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film that keeps unfolding itself long after it ends. Never being a touching romantic love story between boy and girl; a guide on how to express your feelings to your best friends; a guidance feature on how to have a healthy relationship with your parents and juggling schooling life (even though the film does impose a very satisfying conclusion), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film that asks for your complete, undivided attention, and that, is something you don’t really need to try hard to do.

Blistering like the fire of a thousand suns, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the more complete films of the year. Simmering with humour, awesome voice-over cameos, wonderful and colourful performances by young actors and one hell of an emotional manipulating and unexpected ending (that will surely need some tissues), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may very well have you die and come back to life in wonderful fashion.

Night Film Reviews: 8.5 Out of 10 Stars.

THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LET US KNOW HOW YOU FELT ABOUT THE FILM? THE PERFORMANCES? ANYTHING AT ALL WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT WE WILL THINK.

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