ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a funny, heartfelt story you should not miss.
I love being surprised by a movie and although I’d heard that ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL was the toast of Sundance 2015, winning both the prestigious ‘Grand Jury Prize’ and the equally well regarded ‘Audience Award’, I was still taken aback on just how terrific it was when I finally saw it for the first time recently.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon whose work to date has included episodes of series as varied as American Horror Story and Glee, brings Jesse Andrews’ novel to the screen with accomplished assurance and invention. Right from its opening scenes, it was apparent to me in the choice of camera angles and framing, here’s a director with confidence in his material and a strong ability to tell a story. Andrews’ screenplay is sharply funny as well as incredibly heartfelt and in the young characters’ journeys, you really feel he’s trying to explore the pain and joy that exist in all the little moments in life.
The ‘me’ of the film’s title is Greg, a 17 year old high school senior student, beautifully played by the very talented newcomer Thomas Mann. Together with his longtime, best friend Earl (a winning RJ Cyler) they have grown up making movies. But not conventional ones, you understand. Movies that subtly, or sometimes not subtly at all, riff on their originals for their own entertainment. So the likes of classics from Citizen Kane to Mean Streets get hilariously and cleverly remade for their own enjoyment.
But Greg is also a little too focused in his own world and his mother (a fab Connie Britton) decides it would be good for him to think about someone else for a change. So hearing that a girl at school, Rachel, has just been diagnosed with leukemia, she instructs her son to go round and spend time with her. That’s the premise for a story which if you think sounds maudlin or depressing, all I can say is it isn’t – it keeps you riveted every step of the way with both humour and pathos. And just when you think you know how events will turn out, the film deftly moves somewhere else.
Gomez-Rejon employs a good brace of comedic actors – Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon – in supporting roles, allowing them the opportunity to show a more serious side and likewise Jon Bernthal, recently so terrific as a shadowy law enforcement officer in Sicario, here has a shambling, roguish quality as Greg and Earl’s teacher. Finally, as Rachel, young British actress Olivia Cooke displays not only a flawless American accent but a wonderfully genuine emotional quality to all of her scenes. Along with Mann, she’s a name to watch.
For a movie to make you laugh, cry and think a little more about how valuable life is, track down ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL – you’ll be really glad you did.