By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the young adult novel (of the same name) by Jesse Andrews, this film does cover familiar emotional territory, but does so in such a fresh and inventive way. Going into this movie, without any knowledge about the novel, I expected another sob story about unexpected illness and death, but had no idea how much I would love the humor, the characters, and the film as a whole. For those who haven’t read the novel, and have some preconceived notions of what this movie is all about, then they need to ignore those thoughts. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a superbly written, directed and acted movie that beautifully elicits an array of emotions, and genuinely does so without the usual contrived manipulations.
Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) has spent most of his school years trying to avoid real connections with people. Sure, he has a “co-worker” named Earl (RJ Cyler), with whom he makes movie parodies, but no real friends. His senior year in high school undergoes a major change after Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forces him to visit Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a school acquaintance recently diagnosed with leukemia. During their initial meeting, Greg and Rachel actually bond over Greg’s awkward, but funny sense of humor. Before they know it, months begin to pass and the two become friends who enjoy each other’s company. Even Earl joins in on the fun; however, as Rachel’s condition worsens, so does Greg’s inability to deal with real relationships. His fear and self-loathing not only jeopardizes his friendship with Rachel and Earl, it also threatens to affect his already scary future.
Directed Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is another superb cinematic achievement based on a novel geared toward young adults. This film rises close to the top of the ranks after The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and is just a tad better than The Fault in Our Stars. Gomez-Rejon and Andrews do extraordinary work in turning this beautiful story into a truly beautiful film. The director, writer, and actors are outstanding in their development of the story and characters which feel very real and genuine.
The title may sound like a sappy, unbearable tragedy of a movie, but don’t be fooled by those pesky preconceptions! The movie actually is full of delightful humor. Between Greg’s awkwardness and the amusing personalities at the high school, the filmmakers also work parental subplots and the subplot regarding Greg and Earl’s movies which often had me cheering and laughing heartily to the point of tears. Speaking of tears, that is the one expected emotion that comes with a movie like this, and the filmmakers and cast offers lovely performances that will evoke real tears from the hardest of hearts. I definitely was impressed with the lead actors, without whom this movie would not have succeeded.
Thomas Mann perfectly brings to life Greg with all of his charm, snark, and awkwardness, but also manifests some beautiful vulnerabilities when portraying his fears and longings. I, too, was impressed with RJ Cyler who is excellent as the much more cool and confident Earl. The lovely Olivia Cooke also brings an adorable gawkiness, and heartbreaking melancholy to Rachel. The film also features great work by Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Katherine C. Hughes, and Jon Bernthal.
I could continue gushing about the film, but if I say anything else, I’m afraid I will ruin all the wonderful surprises,and spoil the experience. This film won the hearts of audiences and critics at multiple film festivals, including Sundance, and should win the hearts of general film audiences as well. I know, for sure, cinephiles will adore this movie and all it has to offer.