Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cryer, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal
Written by: (based on the novel) Jess Andrews
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 4th September 2015
Usually at this time of the year we get one quirky, independent film that comes out from nowhere and surprises everyone. This year it’s Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, an off-beat, sometimes surreal yet ultimately moving story of friendship, the awkwardness of high school life and of death, as well as an appreciation of cinema.
Gregg is an outsider who spends most of his high school life eating lunch in his history teacher’s office with his friend and work mate, Earl. The pair make parodies of classic movies and while they may not be close, their common fondness for film keeps them together. Gregg’s mother demands that her son spends some time with Rachel, a girl diagnosed with cancer. Reluctant at first, Gregg soon finds a closeness with the girl and a longing to keep her happy in what could be her last days.
The first thing you notice about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film is the interesting use of camera angles and framing. Instead of the generic point the camera and shoot approach, we get shots that don’t fill the screen, The kind of shots that indie cinema does so well, so that even if the film isn’t any good, at least its interesting to look at. In this case, the film is very good so it’s an added bonus.
Based on Jess Andrews best-selling YA novel (Andrews also wrote the screenplay), this looks at the awkwardness of those final teenage years. Where nagging mothers can lead you to literally throwing yourself to the floor. Where you are discovering the things that make you human. Where the obvious journey for a boy and girl is to fall in love, yet they are never obvious in the real world, only in films. This tackles all these elements with great humour and bundles of charm.
Gregg is your typical, awkward teenage boy who wants to fit in and yet doesn’t. He survives the daily rigors of high school life by being just on the outskirts of each of these groups, so typical in high school movies (the jocks, the geeks, the bullies etc). Yet his allegiance is with Earl, a young man with a don’t give a damn attitude, who annoys Gregg because he cannot keep anything secret. When Rachel enters into his life, refreshingly, Gregg gives her no sympathy. Instead talks to her on his level, which allows us to form our own emotional bonds with the characters. There’s nothing false about Gregg. He is what he is.
There’s so much to admire here, not only the strength of its characters but the richness of its humour. Film buffs will get a kick out of watching the parodies that Gregg and Earl have made (A Sockwork Orange, 2.45 Cowboy) while elsewhere it’s the characters that infiltrate Gregg’s world. A hippie father, played brilliantly by Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman; Rachel’s close-to-the-edge mother, again a terrific performance from Molly Shannon. Yet these are placed in the shadows by the three excellent leads.
Thomas Mann is superbly awkward as Gregg, as he lumbers through life, seeing things never in the conventional ways. RJ Cryer is equally good as the monotone Earl, while Olivia Cooke’s Rachel doesn’t look for sympathy and yet you cannot help but fall in love with her.
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a box crammed with delights that will leave you laughing for most of the film and has a very poignant way of delivering a curveball that will hit you and hit you hard. This is not a film to see if you are easily manipulated by your emotions. You know, even by the title, and this is no spoiler, that tears will be shed at some point. Trust me, you will be gushing like a fountain, while still laughing at some of the more absurd moments. I loved it. I loved that it doesn’t deliver low blows or signpost with heavily emotive musical scores or arrows pinpointing to the sadder moments. You are allowed to express your feelings freely. Without a doubt, the indie hit of the year.