Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, 2015.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Starring Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon.
High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
The premise of a high school senior forming an unlikely friendship and bond with a leukemia stricken girl sounds like a story ripe for tragedy and sadness (and it is exactly that sometimes), but what separates Me and Earl and the Dying Girl from similar films is its commitment to quirkiness and offbeat humor to offset the inherent somberness. The movie makes no effort to hide that a doomed friendship is unraveling, instead it wants you to live in the moment with the characters, focusing on the beats of happiness. This easily could have been a manipulative film that forcefully attempts to tug on your heartstrings at every turn, but for director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon the movie is dedicated to becoming a more personal journey.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is highly reclusive and almost as socially awkward as some of the movie itself, but it is ultimately his story and how this befriending of Rachel (Olivia Cooke) at a challenging time in her life changes his outlook on life for the better. Once again, getting there is surprisingly filled with more laughs and smiles than frowns.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a very weird and irreverent experience, sometimes veering off too far into an idiosyncratic tone. Greg and Earl (RJ Cyler) are friends/ co-workers whom find joy in creating low-budget variations of classic films (A Sockwork Orange is one amusing example), but sometimes the actual movie likes to come on to strong as if it were a history lesson and plead from Gomez-Rejon to check out these revered cornerstones of cinema that more modern audiences might be slipping away, because maybe they’re too strange, old, or unknown. There is also a running joke involving claymation that loses its spark early on. The point is that occasionally Me and Earl and the Dying Girl can be frustrating to watch with its pseudo-intelligence and hipster swagger, but wins out because the core of the movie is so damn riveting and well acted.
Whether it’s Greg’s inability to function normally with his peers, Earl’s wisdom as a childhood buddy, or Rachel’s powerful performance as the beautiful teenager with leukemia that is too strong spirited to dislike or pity, the characters in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl feel real. Even more resonating are the lessons learned from the proceedings. The second half of the movie largely ditches the more frustrating aspects of its quirkiness, zoning in on the relationships between all three leads and how they are affected, which is subsequently when the film becomes downright transfixing to watch. It also must be stressed again that it isn’t just the emotional downer scenes that captivate, but the lighthearted moments that are just as strong.
Gomez-Rejon is also a bonafide genius with incorporating music into various scenes, most importantly a poignant, gut-wrenching, bittersweet moment played out to a piece by Brian Eno’s The Big Ship. Just as effective as the music is the cinematography, which plays around with color and a number of creative camera angles. The movie looks great and sounds great, but the acting is what truly transcends Me and Earl and the Dying Girl from simply a good movie to an essential piece of coming-of-age cinema.
Olivia Cooke delivers what is easily the best performance of 2015 so far; a quiet yet effective display built on telling emotions through facial expressions and body language. It’s a testament to the power of the script when not much of Rachel’s chemotherapy is actually shown on-screen, yet we still feel and sense every ounce of her pain (both physical and emotional). You will root for her at every second to defeat leukemia, while also understanding that deep down, the darkest time of her life is also filled with some joy thanks to Greg and his unusual support. Olivia Cooke doesn’t rely on manipulating the audience into moping throughout the film though; she’s a fighter and more of an inspiration than anything. There is no slouch on the performances from Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler either (both have their own stand-out scenes), but Olivia Cooke is operating on another level and deserving of an Oscar nomination.
Even the supporting cast which boasts names like Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal are given just enough to do to leave an impact. Bernthal’s history teacher gives a monologue about continuing to learn about loved ones long after they’re gone that is beautifully written and delivered.
Going into specific detail regarding what makes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so special would require spoilers and a breakdown of its most critical scenes, but readers should know that there are painfully obvious reasons why this won the Grand Jury Prize for drama and the Audience Award at Sundance. The script is filled with elegant writing alongside its pleasantly strange yet very real characters, the acting is phenomenal, and the story is always engaging. There are about four or five scenes in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl that don’t just sublimely define the film, they’re unforgettable and resonate in ways most movies can only dream of rocking the audience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook