UK Release Date: 4th September 2015
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Jesse Andrews
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal
Synopsis: Coerced by his mother into visiting the girl across the road when she is diagnosed with cancer, an introverted teen finds himself a new friend.
Almost everything about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl screams pretentious Sundance-friendly tosh. Whether it’s the wordy title, the sun-baked trailer or the self-consciously quirky tone, everything in the world suggests that the film is going to be almost intolerable. And yet, despite all of that counting against it, this turns out to be one of the funniest, sweetest and most sophisticated teen movies of the last few years.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is an awkward high school student, who spends most of his time making spoofs of classic films with “co-worker” Earl (RJ Cyler), whom he refuses to call his friend. One of his classmates, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), is diagnosed with leukaemia and Greg’s mother and father (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) urge him to try and help her feel better. After being initially protective, Greg allows Rachel to watch his and Earl’s highly personal films.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl works both in spite of and indeed because of its quirky tonal sensibilities. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, known for meta horror reboot The Town That Dreaded Sundown, injects his film with an airy, bright colour palette and chooses delightfully bizarre shots to create an offbeat feel to the film. It highlights the fact that these aren’t normal people and this isn’t a normal friendship. Gomez-Rejon’s camera is constantly on the move through his world, which adds energy to much of the film and creates a real emotional impact in the few scenes in which the camera remains still.
| "I’m not here because I pity you. I’m actually here because my mom is making me."
The performances are nothing short of terrific, with Olivia Cooke finally delivering on the promise she showed in otherwise poor horror film The Quiet Ones. She brings real depth to Rachel, who refuses to let her illness define her but reacts to the worsening of her condition in the kind of immature, irate fashion that just about all of us would in the circumstances. It’s a brave choice for a character in her position to retain their human flaws and one that pays off.
Thomas Mann, too, excels in his role as a deeply unlikeable young man, who is an outsider by choice – a more well-rounded incarnation of every role Michael Cera has ever played. His crippling social anxieties are his greatest flaw, but the film takes great care to avoid turning Rachel into simply a caricature of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. RJ Cyler, meanwhile, is great value as the deeply bizarre Earl and Nick Offerman does a crackingly offbeat turn as Greg’s unusual father, permanently wielding a distressed-looking cat.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s true strength is not in its Sundance-quirk tone, but in its bracing sense of humour. The film is at its best when Greg puts his foot in it or when Rachel is delivering cutting remarks. Perhaps better still are Greg and Earl’s short films, which form a wonderfully naff collection of cine-literate riffs from the simply punny “A Sockwork Orange” to the wonderfully silly “Don’t Look Now, Because a Creepy-Ass Dwarf is About to Kill You”. Inserted at semi-regular intervals into the film, these are welcome flashes of absurdist humour amidst the central drama.
| "Dude’s terrified of calling somebody his friend."
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an excellent film and an offbeat treat amongst the late summer cinema schedule. It doesn’t quite fall together in the last ten minutes, lacking the potent emotional punch of similar films. There is, however, enough in the way of comedy and character development throughout to make the film work, even if the ending stalls a little.
Pop or Poop?
Arriving with a hefty dose of Sundance quirk in its corner, it’s something of a pleasant surprise that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is such a funny, clever and sophisticated film.
The central performances from Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke are terrific and nuanced, with both coming across as humanely flawed characters.
It doesn’t all hold together and the offbeat comedy isn’t for everyone, but this is well worth your time.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.