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.
A massive success on its debut earlier this year at Sundance, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl calls to mind much of the work from the late, great John Hughes as well as a smattering of other influences, most notably Wes Anderson, as from the opening shots of the film, it’s as we are in the midst of the Moonrise Kingdom auteur’s latest venture. Starting from the “end”, we meet Greg (the film’s Me) as he starts to write at his computer as his voice-over announces “I have no idea what I’m doing”, a perfect summation of his life up to this point, or at least before he meets the dying girl.
Greg enjoys life as the outsider of his high-school, spending many hours meticulously mapping out his journey through the tumultuous surroundings of his school that he has segregated and named each faction that resides within his walls. So desperate is he to remain on the outskirts of the social norm that even his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler) has been relegated to the moniker of “co-worker” as the two make spoof films of famous efforts. His parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) seem unmoved by his choices until they inform him of the sad news that fellow classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) “the Dying Girl” has been diagnosed with cancer, and suggest that Greg keep her company through her trauma, despite the lack of any interaction between the two at school.
What happens next in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s outstanding film will surprise many as the expectations of such material aren’t really adhered too. Anyone who has seen The Fault in Our Stars will know exactly what is supposed to happen once Greg and Rachel start to hang out. “So if this was a touching romantic story our eyes would meet and suddenly we would furiously be making out with the fire of a thousand suns, but this isn’t a touching romantic story” says Greg at the very moment the film is supposed to shift into common territories. But this is a different beast altogether: Greg thinks of Rachel only as a burden to begin with, a glitch in the matrix of his meticulous existence, but soon she becomes his wake-up call, his crystallising moment that maybe his dull existence isn’t dull at all, and starts to embrace life just as hers is seemingly coming to an early, sharp end.
Gomez-Rejon, who cut his chops most recently on American Horror Story, beautifully handles the material with all the maturity of a director who has been around forever. Helped by the wonderful cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung (Stoker) whose colours and images are stark and wonderful, Gomez-Rejon helps the material explode on the screen, firmly planting itself in between your heart-strings and funny bone from the first moments. If you don’t laugh at anything else, it will be at the films created by Greg and Earl. No “spoilers” but look out for Breath Less, A Sockwork Orange and A Box Slips Wow.
Then there is the cast l, who like their director look like they have been part of the acting game for countless decades. Mann, Cooke and Cyler are quietly superb (Cyler perhaps less so as the film progresses), captivating throughout and show a worldliness beyond their years that promise bigger and better things in their futures. Special mention too for Nick Offerman and new Punisher Jon Berthnal, both outstanding also.
Lessons of life and living are marmite to many film-goers, and the story and themes on show here may lead to shouts of pretentious and conceited, but Me and Earl is much more. It’s overflowing with affecting moments throughout without ever being schmaltzy or falling into the kind of melodrama that will want to make you run for the hills. It’s affirming in the right way, celebrating life and death in all its forms as well as the teens want to create before responsibilities and “the world” swallow them up.
There are quirks, but such is the power of the story that a few quirks are actually smart rather than grating. There not perfect mind, and there are a few moments which don’t quite work (Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mother comes across more creepy than appreciative) and it is slightly longer than it needs to be and could have done with a small trim in the mid-section.
Enchanting, truthful and very funny, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the year’s finest achievements.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Scott Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth – Follow him on Twitter