Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, and Jon Bernthal
A life raised on movies can only prepare you for so much. I’m sure my parents in some way, shape, or form proposed this comment to me along my journey through adolescence. Experience is a large component in preparation, but the funny thing about experience is that you often fall or fail through it before becoming aware of how to properly use it. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl”, based on the young adult novel by Jesse Andrews who also adapted the screenplay, thrusts a teenage movie loving boy named Greg (Thomas Mann) into a situation where experience holds no power of change or understanding. Gomez-Rejon takes what could have easily been a self-indulgent measure of excessive melodramatic movements and turns “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” into a heartfelt coming-of-age story and sincere portrayal of life and death.
Greg is a sarcastic senior in high school who loves to make home videos of classic films with his best friend, or as Greg describes him “business partner”, Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg blends through high school, taking little part and little interest in every group in school in order to remain invisible and unidentifiable to the cultural trappings of adolescent labeling. But Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) finds out devastating news concerning a classmate named Rachel (Olivia Cooke). She has cancer. Greg’s mom, feeling obliged to help in some way, forces Greg to start spending time with Rachel.
“Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” has all the trappings that often derail films of this type. A dying girl, quirky characters, numerous melodramatic undertones, it all points initially at a film that will move and operate the same way every other film like it has before. However, it doesn’t and this is largely attributed to the keen direction of Gomez-Rejon who crafts the film with grounded sincerity. The narrative is slowly paced, taking time to relax with the characters in their elements and establish a basis of relationship, whether watching Greg and Earl eat lunch silently while watching the documentary “Burden of Dreams” about Werner Herzog’s film “Fitzcarraldo” or the intimately awkward moments in Olivia’s bedroom with Greg stretching for material to talk about. This all works in moving the characters toward the issues they are avoiding. Death is the obvious concern, but it’s also themes of inspiration, failure, and acceptance. Again, these narrative topics are handled with care and utilized in almost a secondary way because the characters are so well composed.
The cast is simply wonderful. The three main cast members of Mann, Cooke, and Cyler each portray their respective characters with an honest and straightforward quality. Cooke is especially great; her transition through the progression of her disease is candid and confident. The supporting cast also serves an important purpose. Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman) offers support both needless and necessary while also playing comedic relief. Greg’s favorite teacher Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) also chimes in with the familiar insightful teacher rhetoric that would feel completely pointless if it didn’t come to realization at the precise, pertinent moment.
For the film buff, you will smile at the homage to the Criterion Collection and laugh loudly at the lovingly rendered adaptations of art-house properties by Greg and Earl. The aspect of film serves an important layer in the narrative, one the displays the quality that film has as a medium of distraction and insight. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” is an emotional experience, though it’s never devastating or heartbreaking. Instead this film is filled with heart and passion, a film that is well worth the experience.
4.50 out of 5.00