Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the review that tells you about a new film that doesn’t suck. In fact it’s exceptionally good, but where do I start? Do I tell you about the Sundance Film Festival awards it has won (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award) and the enthusiastic audience responses, or should I just tell you to go see it and be wonderfully surprised and moved?

It’s true that judging by the title, the film will make you smile, feel like laughing and sad at the same time. This assessment is not far off, in fact beneath all the funny feel-good stuff lays a raw honesty and intense personal experience that strikes deep into the heart.

Greg Gains played by Thomas Mann, a teenager with commitment issues, narrates the story of the worst time of his life, and the best. He’s an awkward kid who dreads high school social life and tries his best to blend in without being noticed. 

Living with his parents on the outskirts of sub-urban Pittsburgh, Greg is raised on a diet of obscure foreign films thanks to his eccentric father. When his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with Leukemia, Greg’s mother nags and guilts him into spending time with her to show that he is not the insensitive anti-social creep that he pretends to be.

When he’s not avoiding people, Greg and his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler) secretly make horrible parodies of classic films for their own enjoyment. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a festival favorite because it makes reference to so many classic foreign films. Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), a documentary about the making of Werner Herzog's jungle epic Fitzcarraldo (1982) is especially singled out with hilarious effect. 

Like the kids in Son of Rambow (2007), Greg and Earl enjoy making fun of their favorite cult classics by videotaping themselves with improvised costumes and dialogue. And like Oliver Tate in Submarine (2010) Greg finds himself ill prepared to deals with the distress of spending a lot of time with a girl and dealing with emotional issues relating to death and terminal illness.

Gradually, as Greg and Rachel spend more time together, even through the chemo treatments, their clumsy friendship grows. Reluctantly Greg and Earl decide to put their film making talents to use to produce a movie for Rachel in hopes that it will make her, if not better, at least temporarily forget about her dire situation. But making the film proves more difficult than expected as Greg must now confront his feelings for Rachel.

Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews who also wrote the screenplay, this charming coming-of-age tale with a powerful message has a truthful voice that feels authentic, relevant and in touch with current adolescence.

The sometimes unusual framing by Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung emphasizes the awkwardness and the uncomfortable situations the characters find themselves in.

In the competent skillful hands of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who has worked as a second unit director for films including Babel (2006), assisting celebrated directors such as Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, he elevates the quirky coming-of-age comedy material to unexpected level of emotional depth and insight. 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl marks the arrival of a major new talent in cinema. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has put his considerable talent and heart into a personal film experience not to be missed and is already garnering Oscar buzz.


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