Feel alive with the hilarious and affecting 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl'
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – “I have no idea how to tell this story.”
Greg (Thomas Mann) is the self-doubting teen behind this quote and the narrator of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”.
Greg is the “Me” portion of the film’s title, and his co-worker is Earl (RJ Cyler).
He conveniently calls Earl his “co-worker”, because he fears an actual “friend” could – someday - potentially decide to end their friendship, and who wants to feel that heartache?
Truth be told, Earl and Greg have been best friends since kindergarten, and they make films in their spare time.
Forty-two films in all, and they claim their finished products – with titles like “My Dinner with Andre the Giant” and “Brew Velvet” – are terrible, but Rachel (Olivia Cooke) doesn’t share their opinion.
Rachel is the “Dying Girl” - who most tragically discovered she has Leukemia – and loves their movies, which are pulled together with the barest of budgets, but with the energy of, well, high school kids with a passion.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon embraces writer Jesse Andrews’s screenplay with passion as well and delivers an inspiring look at high-school while treating it with the utmost care and painstaking detail.
Sure, detail with the look of high school, but, more importantly, with the perceptions of realistic teens.
Greg narrates the film and the story plays out through his 17-year-old insecure world view.
The camera dances with odd depth perception as school hallways and the cafeteria seem endlessly long and narrow with the chaos of teenage revelry in the crowded spaces.
Due to the sea of humanity, Greg can successfully remain invisible as part of his “master plan” of simply getting through his senior year.
Gomez-Rejon plays up Greg’s self-defeating persona and simple wish to just make movies with his best “co-worker”, when life throws a hundred-pound weight on his doorstep in the form of Rachel.
For reasons I will not mention, Greg is forced to spend time with this girl - who he barely knows - to help lift her spirits during her most difficult time.
Mann and Cooke have great on-screen friendship (not purposely romantic) chemistry.
Their time together as supportive friends feels completely solid and assured as the first-period school bell.
Greg’s whip-smart wit shines through his and Earl’s movies, but now, it shines brighter as Rachel’s friend.
At many times, the film is flat-out hilarious and offers several surprises with not necessarily warm characters, but likable ones.
Veteran comics Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon play fairly eccentric parents (Greg’s dad and Rachel’s mom, respectively), but the script thankfully does not dumb them down.
They are both involved in their kids’ lives, but are not the clueless suburbanites played out so many times in countless high school comedies.
Offerman’s character may walk around in his bathrobe and offer Greg and Earl cuttlefish as a snack, but those are a couple major quirks of his personality.
The adults are not unimportant supporting players, but, instead, important and colorful ones.
Speaking of color and eccentricities, Gomez-Rejon delivers many of the visuals with a quirky charm reminiscent of a Wes Anderson picture.
The movie treats the audience to sudden cuts to different locales, the occasional odd camera angle and – at times - the number of days of Greg’s and Rachel’s friendship are spelled out (Day 1, Day 85, etc.) across the bottom of the screen.
An indie feel rules the day, so a clever script and unpredictable sequences fill up the entire 1 hour 45 minute runtime.
The film is brilliantly funny and very affecting, and delivered through the lens of a high school senior.
Cancer is no joke, and its emotional burden is a lot to shoulder on the narrow build of a 17-year-old.
Cyler’s Earl repeatedly offers Greg and the audience his grounded and no-nonsense perspective, but it is up to Greg to internalize and recalibrate the view of his own reality.
This is also commonly known as growing up, and much of the movie’s effectiveness and ultimate impact is watching and experiencing these three teenagers’ journeys through the sometimes short-sighted mistakes which teenagers make.
Through the voice of one particular teenager, the film’s massive doses of humor, friendly smiles and fears of a potential death offers important life lessons to anyone, regardless of age.
Yes, I do believe Greg does know how to tell this story. (4/4 stars)
Image credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures