#REVIEW: “ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Much like last year’s future Oscar-winning Whiplash, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl swept up the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this past January. It quickly became one of my most anticipated Films of the year, and the buzz has only continued to build since then. But can insanely high hopes really be fulfilled, or was I setting myself up for disappointment?
Greg (Thomas Mann) is on great terms with everyone at his high school, but he has never really made much of an impression. He spends his lunch hours watching old movies with his friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II), and makes intentionally lo-fi remakes of classic Films in his spare time. At the request of his Mom (Connie Britton), he befriends and starts hanging out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke). She has leukemia and the outlook is not terrific. As their friendship continues to grow, Greg decides to make a Film for her.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the rare Film that not only meets expectations, but surpasses them. In only his second feature-length Film (coming quickly after last year’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown), Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has crafted what is easily one of the best Films of the year – and one of the few Films that really taps into the raw reality and awkwardness of being a Teenager. Jesse Andrews adapts from his own Novel, and the Film practically jumps off the screen. While the title mentions both Earl and Rachel, the focus is really on Greg and his unconventional journey through his last year of high school. There is an immense amount of humour and some Supporting Characters that border dangerously close on stereotypical sitcom archetypes, but there is no glossy technicolour finish to any of the Leads. Their emotions feel unfiltered and real, not unlike Films like The Breakfast Club and The Spectacular Now, which share Me and Earl’s thematic sensibilities.
Mann is terrific on his own, but coupled with Cooke, he becomes practically electric on-screen. They have a magnetic and natural chemistry between each other, allowing the Film to feel genuine at all times. An all-too common teenage melodrama would throw these two Characters together and let their passions take over, but this Film quietly simmers on what may be happening behind the scenes and allows the Characters to grow intuitively. They soar through the comedic moments of the Film, and are authentic and honest through the sadder moments. But for how great they are, it is Cyler who truly dazzles. He steals the show at every turn, dropping memorable quips about “titties” and life observations every chance he gets. It is a really fun Character that keeps the Film grounded, never allowing it to become too sappy or effusive.
I would be remiss to not mention the highly detailed and ridiculously funny Short Film Remakes that Greg and Earl’s Characters make in their spare time. We only get a small glimpse at some of the 40+ the Characters claim to have made, but each one is funnier and more unique than the last. While some of the titles border on the more obscure Criterion Collection favourites, the majority are well known, classic Films. A take on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in particular, made here with socks as A Sockwork Orange, had me ready to pass out from laughing so hard. It reminded me a lot of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind and to a lesser extent, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, but without the hidden agenda for Film preservation.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is not a perfect Film, but its small omissions are more than made up by how delightful and wildly enjoyable it is. It is an early candidate for the Best Film of the Year, and is destined to be a classic. I saw the Film a few weeks ago now and am itching to watch it again to catch more of the tiny details Gomez-Rejon sprinkled into the background. It may have a morbid title, but do not think twice about rushing out to see it.
Fox Searchlight release ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL on Friday, June 12, 2015.