Young stars shine in fresh, quirky coming-of-age comedy-drama
Me & Earl & the Dying Girl
Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cook and RJ Cyler
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
A movie with “dying girl” in its title would seem to be giving you a pretty big spoiler right up front.
But don’t let thinking you know what’s going to happen keep you away from the many delights, heart pangs and sweet surprises of this fresh, quirky comedy-drama, the big hit at last summer’s Sundance Film Festival now spreading into the movie mainstream.
Based on author Jessie Andrews’ award-winning 2013 debut young-adult novel, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl unfolds through its central character, Greg (Thomas Mann), who narrates. He begins, “This is the story of my senior year in high school and how it destroyed my life—and how I made a film so bad it killed someone.”
Intrigued? You should be.
Greg, who’s cruised through high school by avoiding close friendships with just about anyone while breezily associating with just about everyone, has only one real buddy, Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg and Earl have been “associates”—Greg can’t bear to use the word “friends”—since childhood, bonding over classic movies and making their own low-budget parodies. Their video mini-masterpieces include Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind, Senior Citizen Kane and A Sockwork Orange.
Greg’s mom and dad (Connie Britton of TV’s Nashville and the wonderfully dry Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation) inform him that one of his classmates, Rachel (Olivia Cook of Bates Motel), is dying of cancer—and it sure would be nice if Greg reached out to her. Greg isn’t keen on the idea, and neither is Rachel. But soon the ice between them begins to melt, Rachel begins to dig Greg and Earl’s oddball movies, and Greg begins his next cinematic subject—featuring Rachel. But completing it becomes harder than he thought.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, making his second feature film after a run of TV (Glee, American Horror Story), has a real feel for the material with a keen visual style that captures the story’s emotional swirl and its spectrum of teen alienation, attraction, anger, angst, frustration, whimsy
and wisdom. Subplot threads about a super-cool history teacher (Jon Bernthal) and Greg’s college application process tie up neatly—and significantly—at the end. And the terrific young actors (who actually range in age from 20 to 25) flesh out their characters with relaxed, natural performances that never feel forced, fussy, sappy, goofy or unnecessarily dramatic.
It’s up at times, down at others, ultimately life-affirming and bustling with originality, even while it traverses somewhat familiar teenage territory: Think The Fault in Our Stars crossed with Napoleon Dynamite with just a pinch of The Breakfast Club for seasoning. It may remind you of other things, but it’s definitely got it’s own chill, cool, youthful, coming-of-age vibe.
Just give into it, go with it and let it take you where it leads you—and don’t caught up in thinking that you already know where that will be.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine