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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Fox Searchlight Pictures // PG-13 // June 12, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Many different people around the world watch movies for a variety of reasons. One type of film that I enjoy happens to be morally complex dramas that speak about humanity. This medium has the opportunity to make groups of strangers sit in a room together and cry, laugh, and cheer. Fox Searchlight has picked up a title that happens to do all of the above with their Sundance-winning film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Writer Jesse Andrews and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon take on what seems to be a tired perspective, but make it fresh. It's told from the point-of-view of a teenage boy who wants to remain invisible through high school. Yet, the praise that it has received over the past few months is entirely warranted, as it manages to make us feel multiple layers of emotions without any of them conflicting with one another.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a senior in high school, but has been ready to graduate since before it began. In order to avoid making enemies or getting involved with any sort of drama, he has created a system that will keep him under the radar over the four years. However, all of this planning is soon destroyed when he ultimately befriends a classmate (Olivia Cooke) with cancer.
Call it what you want, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a coming-of-age story at its core. Greg has numerous self-esteem issues, believing that nobody could legitimately have the potential to actually want to be friends with him. It isn't until he meets Rachel that everything begins to change. From this point, we know that it's going to turn into a love story. In most cases, we'd be correct, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl takes a different path entirely. Rather, it's about a friendship that proved to shape a young boy's life forever. This isn't your typical coming-of-age flick at all, as Greg isn't the type of character that we're necessarily meant to connect with right away. He may be narrating the story, but one could hardly call him a reliable narrator. It's mostly his story from the surface, but it often feels as if he's telling multiple stories, perhaps a compilation of what he wish could have happened. It's an extremely smart way to tell a story, and Andrews' screenplay absolutely nails it.
There are inevitable moments that are guaranteed to leave you with a knot in your throat, although it never baits the audience into crying. As much as I liked The Fault in Our Stars, this isn't going for the same tone. Rather, it incorporates comic relief in order to break up the heavy material, and there are some genuine laughs to be had here. In a film about a young girl with cancer, one wouldn't imagine that there's much to laugh about, although Andrews incorporates a respectful sense of humor that is both effective and fitting. Perhaps some of the best laughs come along when Greg and Earl introduce their amateur films that mock classic films, many of which owned by the Criterion Collection. To just call this a drama would be incorrect. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl wants us to feel a wide variety of emotions along the journey of this "doomed friendship," as Greg repeatedly calls it. The narrative holds a steady pace that moves incredibly smoothly.
Writer Jesse Andrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon could have easily milked the third act, but they don't. Rather than betting on the most predictable plot points, they pay special attention to the more subtle aspects of his friendship with Rachel. In a forced friendship that started to be all about cancer, it has turned into something that has forever changed both individuals. Perhaps the film's biggest strength is its honesty. It doesn't just feel like a story, but a perspective from a writer who truly has a connection with the material. It simply doesn't get more powerful than that. A lot of attention is paid to details in the characters and the dialogue that make for a special cinematic experience. There isn't much of any filler at all, as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is pretty much as genuine as it gets. Not everybody will cry, but all us will be leaving the theater feeling a bit vulnerable.
This sense of honesty is greatly due to the performances. Thomas Mann hasn't had many opportunities to display much range, but the role of Greg has certainly given him that chance. He has successfully portrayed this typical teenager in a way that truly makes the film feel personal. Olivia Cooke delivers the best performance of her career thus far in the role of Rachel. She pulls out many of the character's more subtle elements, making for a more powerful cinema experience. However, RJ Cyler isn't given a whole lot to do as Earl, although he successfully delivers some of the film's comedic moments.
When it comes to the Sundance coming-of-age flicks, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the most genuine ones to be distributed in the last few years. It's guaranteed to make you feel an entire web of emotions without ever feeling removed from reality. Jesse Andrews' screenplay is tremendously smart and well-crafted, especially in regards to the evolution of Greg and Rachel's supposed "doomed friendship." It's truly a journey well-worth taking that is sure to stick with you. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is honest, smart, and beautifully told. Highly recommended.