FilmIFFBoston 2015Review

IFFBoston Review: ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ Is Quirk That Works

James Cannelos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

RJ Cyler and Thomas Mann in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight
RJ Cyler and Thomas Mann in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight

What home movies lack in production quality they always make up for in heart. There’s a basic joy and enthusiasm that goes into making these films with some family members and friends. They are simply made for entertainment to those who spent their free time and effort to make the film happen, no matter how terrible it is. That exuberant spirit of filmmaking embodies Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s (American Horror Story) adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. This film feels almost tailor made for the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered and won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. It’s a coming of age story, has very quirky dialogue and notable character actors there for an extra boost. It all might sound a bit familiar, but that’s exactly what they want you to think. Now in the final stretch of high school, Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) avoids any possible human connection like it’s the plague. Bouncing in between all the high school cliques like a pinball, and making the right amount of conversation to be in good terms but nothing more. He even refers to the titled Earl (RJ Cyler) as his “co-worker” despite the fact that they’ve been making parodies of classic films since they were children. Much to Greg’s disdain his mother (Connie Britton) forces him to start hanging out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) a relatively liked classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman and Thomas Mann in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight
RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman and Thomas Mann in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight

Picture The Fault In Our Stars with The Spectacular Now and then mix them together with Be Kind and Rewind. That combination is a recipe for something that sounds bland but explodes with rich unexpected flavors after biting into it.

Jesse Andrews adapted his own novel as the screenplay writer and with the leadership of Gomez-Rejon captures the hellish anxiety of trying to make it through high school without any emotional scars. Even though Greg doesn’t identify himself with a label, he’s pinned down completely for observation thanks to the immense talent of Thomas Mann. He develops a character so intimidated of connection and commitment that he won’t even make a movie with a cast and crew larger then two people. Not even someone as anti-social as Greg can overlook the charm of Cyler and Cooke, each underplaying their roles to the right degree. This trio handles the amount of deadpan humor and sensitivity of the script with enough grace and accuracy to make everyone forget about their performances in over forty two parodies.

It’s rare for high school films to transition between humor to melancholy so swiftly and still have both elements linger within each scene. It’s like being on the verge of despair and hysterical laughter. Gomez-Rejon understands the elements that make high school life’s cruelest joke and captures the traumatic elements of it. A big thanks goes to Chung-hoon Chung’s mile a minute cinematography that knows exactly when to show off and when to keep simple but never inactive. Chung’s cinematography is the kind that reminds everyone just how fast high school really goes by and what we hope to make of it in that time. Andrews’ dialogue hits you hard but goes down smoothly, without ever trying too hard to be an overly sappy film. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl manages to remain funny, touching and sad all in the same scene and never loses touch with the offbeat humor it erupts with. It may also be the first love letter to the glory of the home movie parodies that are celebrated in Youtube culture. Looking past the excellent production values, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has just as much heart as the home movies that get young filmmakers everywhere drunk on films for the first time.

Overall Grade: A

The Independent Film Festival of Boston runs through April 29th. Visit iffboston.org for more information.

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