Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s coming-of-age comedy/drama, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, is both very funny and very sad, full of life’s pain but also reminding us of its joy. Based on a novel by Jesse Andrews who also wrote the screenplay, it is a sweet, smartly written film that always retains a human quality that we can relate to. Though its story of teenage alienation and terminal illness may sound like a dozen other genre films, its appealing freshness and rejection of maudlin sentimentality sets it apart from the rest.
Teenager Greg (Thomas Mann) attempts to saunter his way through high school without incident, befriending members of every clique (or “nations,” as he calls them) in order to mingle with relative inconspicuousness. Making short parodies of classic films (IE: “A Sockwork Orange” is their version of “A Clockwork Orange,” Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” becomes “Breath Less,” a film about a man’s attachment to his inhaler, and “Midnight Cowboy” becomes “2:48 P.M. Cowboy”) in his spare time with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler), Greg succeeds in going unnoticed – until his mother insists that he make an effort to console classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a young girl recently diagnosed with leukemia. His simple world is thrown into chaos as he grows closer to Rachel, whose vibrant presence begins to reverse his own pessimistic outlook on life.
Rejon, who began his career as a personal assistant to Martin Scorsese, shows his range as a charming director who is able to not only amp up the quirk factor, but also get the best performances from his actors and characters to help narrate the story to uncontrollable moments of laughter. Rejon, an obvious film enthusiast and lover of classics sends great satisfaction of allowing his feature of reminiscing on these classic films in a fringe- type cinematic wet dream. His rehashing, mockery yet clear praise and reference to classic films shows his great admiration and love for film as a whole. While Greg and Earl half- heartedly remake some of their favourtite films, we get a clear sense of what makes them great friends, their ability to embrace their immaturity and playfulness. Rejon pulls it off through and through, that boys will be boys, while Mann and Cyler really hit that notion out of the par throughout each scene.
The writing and execution is elite quality. Each character seem are grounded and depicted realistically. Parent and child relationships and peer relationships all are captured in humorous and touching ways. The dramatic elements of the film don’t come across as cliché or cheesy thanks to the acting and the writing that I’ve previously mentioned. I applaud the imagination involved in the parody films which Greg and Earl make as they are cheesy, funny, and full of charm with the purposefully bad acting and some nice stop-motion animation. This comes from the fact that they make them by themselves with the smallest of budgets.
Shot by cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), on a quirkiness scale of one to ten, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl registers a high eight with a lot of Wes Anderson-type features such as sight gags, amusing intertitles,” animated sequences, and innovative camera-work, but on the scale that measures honesty and sincerity in films, it is off the charts. Probing deeper than most films of its kind, it forges genuine, three-dimensional characters who will make their way into your heart and never leave.
While death is the overwhelming factor in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the film becomes less about death, the tragedy of loss and the morbid reality of sadness and more a remembrance of good memories, happy times, sad times, and the emotions they easily illicit to us. Rejon easily proves himself to be a mature director playing with many depths; depths with his storytelling but mostly, the wide range of depths of the emotions he so easily controls masterfully on screen between friends.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl gets an 8.7/10.