Review: Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

The Sundance seal of approval may have put off some, but don’t let the prospect of yet another young adult adaptation deter you from this charming little indie.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a wholly pleasant surprise that will charm and moves you in equal measure

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a wholly pleasant surprise that will charm and moves you in equal measure

It’s not too difficult to imagine just how painful Me And Earl And The Dying Girl could have turned out in the wrong hands, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon avoids cranking the quirk-ometer up to 11 and instead draws affecting and appealing performances from his young leads.

That being said, the film takes a little while to find its feet as the angular camera moves (characters often deliberately appear at the side of a frame, for instance), Wes Anderson-friendly chapter headings and twee stop motion animation suggest a tough 105 minutes awaits.

However, Thomas Mann’s Greg, the “Me” of the title, soon wins you over with his hangdog self-deprecation.

Me and Earl: Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (Ronald Cyler II) IN Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Me and Earl: Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (Ronald Cyler II) IN Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Narrated in self-referentially cinematic fashion by Greg, we’re introduced to life in his small corner of Americana, which involves trying to ignore advice from his well-meaning parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman, who doesn’t seem to work which raises the question of how they are able to afford to live how they do), being on the periphery of the school’s various cliques and hanging out with Earl (Ronald Cyler II).

Greg doesn’t describe Earl as his friend, rather his “co-worker” due to the numerous movie pastiches they’ve filmed together, including Senior Citizen Cane, A Sockwork Orange and The 400 Bros. Greg’s obvious attachment issues are put to the test when he’s reluctantly persuaded to spend time with fellow student Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. A frosty acquaintance gradually thaws into something altogether warmer, though, as Greg, Rachel and Earl form a sweet bond.

Me and the dying girl: Greag (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Me and the dying girl: Greg (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl manages to work almost in spite of itself. The best teen movies are invariably the ones that try least hard to be teen movies. Jesse Andrews’ screenplay, based on his novel of the same name, doesn’t feed arch, ham-fisted dialogue to its characters; rather it creates a world which feels lived in and – largely – succeeds in avoiding overly saccharine life-lessons.

The film also benefits greatly from the excellent chemistry of its core triumverate; Cooke especially, who has a spikiness that hides a scared fragility that is refreshing in a character such as this and builds on the good work she’s done in TV series Bates Motel (also playing a sickly teen – don’t get yourself typecast Olivia).

A few of the movie pastiches in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

A few of the movie pastiches in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Despite being served with the occasional duff line (“titties” gets mentioned more than once), Cyler’s Earl is arguably the most interesting character, if only because you are so keen to find out more about his upbringing, which has seemingly involved growing up in a desperately run-down neck of the woods.

The film is at its best when it indulges in its love of cinema, something that serves as catnip for movie lovers who can spot the various references to the likes of Powell and Pressburger, Herzog and Truffaut, alongside all the affectionately staged reproductions of many well-loved moving pictures.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a wholly pleasant surprise that will charm and moves you in equal measure.

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23 comments

  1. The Telltale Mind · September 8, 2015

    Looking forward to seeing this one. Looks like it has quite a bit of charm which I like.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      It really does. Took me by surprise if I’m honest; cheers for the feedback.

  2. Mark Hobin · September 8, 2015

    Does winning top honors at Sundance “put off” some? It joins the ranks of past winners like Whiplash, Fruitvale Station, and & Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was quite charming. One of the best indies of the summer.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      I think it does put some people off, but they aren’t true film fans. Those films you’ve listed are all fantastic and this, although not as good as those other movies, is a real charmer.

  3. Dan O. · September 8, 2015

    A little too in love with itself at times. But overall, charming and heartfelt enough to work. Nice review.

  4. Brittani · September 8, 2015

    The Sundance seal of approval always works for me. I enjoyed this one, though I never read the book. It felt very different from the usual movie about teens with illnesses.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      Not read the book either but I’d rather read this than The Fault in Our Stars if I’m honest. Thanks Brittani!

  5. Tom · September 8, 2015

    Loved this movie man! Olivia Cooke was a slight revelation and I couldn’t believe Thomas Mann redeemed himself so well after the last outing I had seen him in (Project X haha). This certainly had moments where, had it not been for directorial control, the actors could have just ran away with their dialogue and made a rather rambling movie about teen angst and whatnot, but the extemporaneousness of the performances really work in this film. The structure was really playful too. Again, just loved it. Great review man!

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      Haven’t seen Project X (heard bad things) so this was my first experience of Thomas Mann. He’s pretty good I must admit – let’s see what he does next, eh? “The extemporaneousness of the performances really work in this film” – nice summation! I’ll have to sneak that in a review or two 🙂

      • Tom · September 11, 2015

        Permission granted, sir. And if you want to keep your impressions of Thomas Mann of a positive nature, I’d strongly advise against watching Project X. Movie featured some of the least-likeable characters I’ve seen in freaking years

      • Three Rows Back · September 11, 2015

        Yeah, I’d heard it’s a car wreck. Will avoid!

  6. ruth · September 8, 2015

    Glad you like this one too Mark! I’m not always clamoring to see films set in high school but this one intrigued me. I’m glad I saw it, it made me laugh and moved me to tears as well. Gomez-Rejon is a talented filmmaker, he actually worked for Scorsese when he was at NYU, so he learned from the best obviously.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      Hadn’t realised Gomez-Rejon worked with Marty; that stands him in good stead. He’s worked a lot on Ryan Murphy TV shows like Glee, so he’s got some history working with teen actors. It ticks a lot of boxes; cheers for the comment Ruth!

      • ruth · September 16, 2015

        Oh yeah, I listened to his interview on NPR and he mentioned about working on Glee. I think that’s why he seems to get the teen culture and angst. He was Scorsese’s personal assistant when he was at NYU, boy what a job that must be!

  7. Ben · September 9, 2015

    Loves this movie. You are right about the character of Earl, he seemed the most interesting. The Blu-Ray should hopefully contain all the movies they filmed too – that would be well worth the purchase alone.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      Thanks Ben! Yeah, I’d love to see the short films they put together for the film – it’s the highlight of the movie for sure.

  8. Stu · September 10, 2015

    Very keen to see this but I have a feeling I’ll either miss it on the big screen or will have to wait a month or two. Sounds excellent, and although I still have those reservations (the Sundance-y indie tweeness thing, really) it’s good to know there’s more to it than that.

    • Three Rows Back · September 10, 2015

      Cheers Stu. You can watch this on the small screen and not miss a thing. It’s not the best film you’ll watchg all year, but there’s a lot going for it.

      • Stu · September 11, 2015

        Nice one. I noticed a local odeon near where I’m staying at the moment is showing it at noon today so I’ll try and get along.

      • Three Rows Back · September 11, 2015

        Good man. Like to read what you think.

  9. jwforeva · November 4, 2015

    Nice one 🙂 I don’t really think it was tough to watch though, it was really seamless for me 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · November 4, 2015

      Thanks mate. Fair enough! Glad to read you loved this as much as I did.

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