'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' - A Film Review
by Will Lindus
There are certain phrases that I see all too often on movie posters, phrases which I’ve become numb to due to their rampant and, frankly, irresponsible use. Perhaps the one I dismiss most readily is the phrase ‘emotional roller coaster,’ a phrase often paired with films that try (and fail) to off-set heavy, real world issues with light, formulaic character building moments. I’ve grown jaded by films like this; sure, they can make me cry, but can they make me laugh? Usually, the answer is no. It takes a rare film to strike the perfect balance between gravitas and comedy, between heavy stakes and uplifting humor.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is just such a film.
Detached teenaged loner and amateur film-maker Greg (Thomas Mann) is forced by his mother to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl in his class who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Accompanied by his best friend Earl (RJ Cycler), the three form an unlikely friendship that extends beyond the walls Greg and Rachel build around themselves.
Make no mistake; this film will make you cry. When dealing with a teenager going through the struggles of cancer, the isolation that the disease forces her to feel, and the inevitability of her own mortality, waterworks are inevitable. Based on the premise, though, you probably knew that already. What surprised me most was just how much humor appeared in the script. I found myself legitimately laughing out loud in the theater more times than I could count. A fair amount of this praise should be heaped on the three lead actors, all of whom nail the delivery of each line with sincerity and personality to spare. The supporting cast of adults, including Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon, all offer commendable performances as well, serving enough quirk to be interesting, never venturing into distracting territory.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon employs a deft, confident hand when presenting the sharply written material. Cleverly crafted title cards separate the film into chapters, each with witty or sardonic titles which help to mark the passage of time as well as the evolving emotions that Greg is experiencing through his friendship with Rachel. The film also utilizes claymation in a few sequences, which could have been a misstep if these moments weren’t tied so cleanly to a recurring character who enters Greg’s life. I certainly won’t be the first nor the last person to draw obvious parallels between Gomez-Rejon’s style and that of a toned-down Wes Anderson. It should come as no surprise that one of the film’s producers, Jeremy Dawson, collaborated with Wes Anderson on four films. Though the similarities are apparent in style, Gomez-Rejon speaks with a unique voice when it comes to tone and character pacing, a fact which should allow the film to appeal to even the most ardent of Wes Anderson detractors.
This is the part of the review where I speak directly to the film nerds in the audience. If you are a passing film fan, feel free to grab a Diet Coke and skip ahead to the next paragraph, because it’s about to get nerdy up in here. Throughout the film, a subplot emerges wherein Greg and Earl share their love of making amateur films with Rachel. Their schtick? They take the name of a classic film, change one or more words, and create a new film based on the new title. From ‘Rosemary Baby Carrots,’ to ‘Senior Citizen Kane,’ to ‘My Dinner With Andre the Giant,’ the film references are in delightful abundance. The names are silly, as are the glimpses of the short films themselves, but the sincere love of cinema woven into Jesse Andrews’ script, and channeled through Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Thomas Mann, is refreshing. I found myself nerding out over small references as well, including a poster for The 400 Blows found on Greg’s bedroom wall.
There’s a lot to love about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Brian Eno’s score is evocative and charming, without ever becoming drenched in schmaltz or faux-sentimentality. The camera work is exquisite; Alfonso Gomez-Rejon utilizes dynamic angles and framing, as well as liberal use of wide angle lenses, to really push the envelope for the genre. It comes as no surprise that the film took home both the Audience and Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
This is not a by-the-numbers indie flick. From visuals to score, from script to screen, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the most competently crafted films of 2015, and should absolutely be on your must-watch list. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll find yourself strapped in to the emotional roller coaster, and you’ll love every minute of it.
4.5 out of 5 Bear Paws