“This is the story of my senior year of high school where I made a movie so bad it actually killed someone.”
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.
Awkward teenage angst is not uncommon in cinema. It’s a genre that has been utilized both fervently and with great misguided negligence. Coming of age stories and nostalgic views adolesence. So many times we’ve seen filmmakers create high school tales with cynicism and lethargic sloth making for painfully dull and cringe inducing cinema that is usually drenched in sarcastic malaise. Every once in a while though there is a project that depicts the angst and turmoil of teenage life with a refreshing earnest view that breathes new life into a genre overwrought with camp. Enter Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, the Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed film about the complicated lives of teenagers. The story centers around Pittsburgh highschooler Greg (Thomas Mann), a gangly, sarcastic, and otherwise infantile teenager that has created through his highschool career methodically avoiding conflict camouflaging himself between all high school groups never facing confrontation. Greg’ hobby is making satirical visions of classic films (‘Sockwork Orange’ is still one of my favorites) with his “Co-worker” Earl. Earl (RJ Cyler) is a young man who lives in a rough neighborhood with minimal adult supervision. Earl and Greg have been best friends since childhood but do to some neuroses Greg has always been too terrified of calling someone his friend, to quote Earl “Dude’s got issues.” The re envisioning of classic films is a plot device not used since the endearing cult hit Be Kind Rewind, the difference is that this film doesn’t cement itself in the goofy surrealism of the aforementioned Be Kind Rewind and instead resigns itself to a character study of the teenage psyche when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is an earthbound in its sensibilities providing vision with it’s roots firmly planted in this reality. The fear going on was that this would be little more than a less popular Fault in Our Stars, but it’s less about teens dealing with illness and more about the empathetic nature of the human condition and the transformative power of art. The moment where Greg meets Rachel (Olivia Cooke) there is no spark. it’s uncomfortable, just as the situation would be in real life, and Greg acts accordingly. The relationship is profoundly beautiful in it’s believability. These kids have a chemistry that cannot be forced. The heart of the movie lies in the little moments. There are some laughs and a few outlandish sarcastic moments that will leave you groaning, but the minor moments and subtleties prevail in the end leaving overwhelming sense of warmth even in the darkest moments.
This film has the sort of self awareness that most others do not. The acknowledgement of the abnormalities the characters both have and face make this a refreshing take. This film doesn’t ignore it’s offbeat sensibilities but embraces them. The film is brilliant and it’s character depth is unmatched. The mini moves that Earl and Greg make are just there way of masking inefficiencies in their lives. Earl uses the hobby to escape a dreary home life that includes a dim witted brother who seems to just sit around on the porch all day sicking his dog on unsuspecting passer by’s. Greg uses the films as a means to avoid sincere interactions with real people. Which is why when the idea for the pair to make a film for Rachel is suggested Greg becomes painfully introverted in hopes of avoiding having to create a sincere moment with the activity he uses to avoid all sincerity.
The performances are special. There is no other way to put it then to say what unfolds on screen between the characters is special. The chemistry is feverish, and it’s this type of compatibility that allows for the film’s heavy handed moments to land with such austerity. Thomas Mann as Greg was inspired casting. He portrays the awkward yet surprisingly charismatic Greg with poise beyond his years. RJ Cyler’s take on Earl is more restrained and still equally impressive. The banter between him and Mann is impeccably timed and the two are able to make the script come alive. Olivia Cooke as Rachel proves that the movie Ouija was all the scripts fault. She is incredible as the withering teen facing a potentially terminal illness head on. What brings the film together is the supporting cast. From Connie Britton and Molly Shannon as the parents of Greg and Rachel respectively to the impossibly cool teacher played by Jon Bernthal. The whole cast is something to behold as an ensemble but the three main characters are truly special.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is a movie that could have very easily been a wash. It could have been a VOD release and not bothered to provide any original insights into a genre that is desperately seeking resurgence. With this film emerging we have our second significant teenage drama of the summer following Dope. The whole film is brimming with heart. At the center of it all is Thomas Mann’s Greg. The film would undoubtedly have failed if not for finding the right Greg, a character that has to balance so many emotions and with an insightful yet modest personality with a big heart and seemingly no social skills. It’s the core relationship that blends the film’s themes and emotions into a cohesive feature that radiates warmth even in it’s overtly difficult moments. The cast is perfectly matched and the pace is just rapid enough to keep the story afloat, but it never skips a beat or glosses over any moment. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is a collection of moments meant to highlight the empathetic spirit of adolescence, the power and impression of art, and enigmatic mystery of an individual’s essence. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is an emotional journey that every audience should take.
4.6/5 EPIC BRO