In between Dope and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, there is a pretty great double bill for an arthouse cinema to take on. Both films include a high school senior attempting to earn admission into college with an impassioned speech either in a one-shot monologue or in voiceover. Seeing them both in close succession helps, but both are two of the more unique and/or emotional films I've bumped into this year.
Jesse Andrews adapted his novel into a screenplay that Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown) directed. Greg (Thomas Mann, Beautiful Creatures) and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) spent their time going to high school in Pittsburgh and make spoofs of old films, mostly those from the Criterion Collection. At the suggestion of Greg's Mom (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) and Dad (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation), Greg meets Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Ouija), a classmate of the boys and suffering from cancer. Greg tries and ultimately fails to maintain his normally glib composure as Rachel's brief time with him impacts him deeply and emotionally.
Something which struck me as I was watching Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was the confidence that Gomez-Rejon had in his work and the trust in his actors. You get the impression that the product was heartfelt and everyone was devoted to making the movie with the best intentions and it comes through as you see it. I got the sense early on that Greg and Earl seemed to be quirky for their own good, and would thus seem to alienate a lot of people from seeing the film. However, as you go through Me and Earl, you see that they have their own stories that may fall outside of conventional high school interaction, but they have not been introduced to anything that could be potentially soul-stirring, and that is what Rachel gives them both. Rachel's life impacts them, and her life and how it changes them is handled very well by Gomez-Rejon.
Mann's performance in the film is excellent, as Greg struggles with his feelings as Rachael gradually disappears from his life. Some of the movie is handled in voiceover to set up the backstory with Greg and Earl and how Rachel was introduced to them. Cyler's performance has charisma and emotion that could be considered a breakthrough performance, and Cooke has a sort of Chloe Moretz innocence about her and even though her character's environment is virtually the same throughout, alternating between her house and the hospital, she manages to turn in a standout performance of her own. Offerman and Britton complement Mann's performance nicely, and as Rachel's mom, former Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon (Never Been Kissed) is the understated voice of the film, and her performance should not go unnoticed. Heck, Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street) appears as a tattooed teacher at the school and his few scenes are somewhat memorable.
With all the nice or even very good things in the film, the great part about Me and Earl is that everyone knows what will happen in the end. Greg, Rachel, the parents of the kids, you, me. Gomez-Rejon (who grew up working on the sets of Martin Scorsese films and his love of films is similar to that of the auteur) lost his Dad shortly before the story of Me and Earl came to him, and while there are lots of things about Gomez-Rejon in the film, the greatest part of the film would seem to be talk to people and befriend them, because every life has impact, even yours, whether you know it or not.The Blu-ray:
Fox gives Me and Earl an AVC encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation and the results are excellent. Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is responsible for the cinematography and it looks great. Colors look natural and vivid, and image detail is abundant both in the foreground and in the Pittsburgh backgrounds. The source material handles a couple of different sources such as Greg and Earl's films but otherwise, the Blu-ray is great work.The Sound:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track is good, which Brian Eno's music getting due justice on Blu-ray. In lesser dynamic/non-music moments, sound is well-balanced in the channels, with directional effects and channel panning present and effective, a touch scarce. But it conveys the sound nicely and without complaint, in what is another solid presentation from Fox.Extras:
Gomez-Rejon starts things with a commentary to the film where he discusses how he originally shot some scenes and gets into shot breakdowns in other areas, and recalls how he came to the material and points out all of the film influences onscreen as his. He also points out some character backstory that was not fully explained before, and has excellent recall of the production, and overall it is a really nice track. "This is Where You Learn How the Movie Was Made" (38:47) is a three-part making-of on the film that examines the idea for the book and how it was made into a movie, and includes in between bloopers, audition footage, the shaving of Cooke's head and how the production shot in continuity, among others. It has some technical information in it, but serves as a more casual look at how the film came together, and it's a pretty worthy complement to the feature.
Following that piece is a half-hour conversation between Gomez-Rejon and Scorsese (33:24), where it is discussed how Gomez-Rejon worked around Scorsese's productions, and they exchange thoughts in moments each other likes and how each works. Scorsese almost has to be reminded that they are there for Gomez-Rejon's film, so he has to ask an occasional question or two, but it seems like knowing the history with the two that they could have just put a camera up between the two and go from there. It is a nice inclusion. Six deleted scenes with optional commentary (12:17) are nice, there is a scene near the end that feels forced if it were in the final film, but otherwise they are decent. The full movie for Rachael is included (5:01), along with a trailer that Greg ‘made' for Me and Earl (1:01). A montage of Greg and Earl's films follows (4:39) which includes more that you didn't see in the feature, and their filmography is listed (:24) for yucks. There is also a digital copy for you to redeem how you'd like.Final Thoughts:
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is funny and emotional, and its themes of life, death and how it changes apathy are fascinating to explore through the eyes of talented young actors such as Mann, Cyler and Cooke. Technically, the disc is very good, and the supplements really seal the deal for it. If you can see the double feature with Dope I recommend it, but both films, without context, are ones you should seek out and experience for yourself.