Take a Drink: for each clever movie reference
Do a Shot: during each long conversation about pillows
Take a Drink: anytime Greg is down on himself
Take a Drink: for each eccentric food item Greg’s dad offers
Take a Drink: during each heartbreaking moment
Do a Shot: for a hilarious surprise cameo
Take a Drink: for each quirky moment
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
Another weekend into the summer movie season, another Sundance release. It’s odd that during the time in which most big blockbusters are released, many studios try to release the indies they picked up from the Sundance Film Festival as counter-programming. In the past, this has been a strategy that has worked quite well. Indies like The Way Way Back, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and most recently Boyhood have all found success despite their relatively small movie feel.
This year, however, Sundance films have not had the best luck. The D-Train randomly received a nationwide release date, and ended up with one of the worst opening weekends of all time. Just a few weekends back, one of Sundance’s most mainstream films Dope failed to meet mild expectations, and has not quite lived up to the hype. This is a shame, as both were relatively good flicks that were suffocated by a crowded marketplace. While it’s unsure how Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will perform nationwide, it is certainly deserving of an audience, as it’s a quirky, yet heartwarming flick.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl follows Greg, a self-loathing senior in high school who is caught up in his own flawed life. His outlook begins to change as he and his best friend Earl befriend Rachel, a fellow student who is diagnosed with cancer.
Despite the film being a smaller production, it’s visually quite impressive. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and his team use a lot of creativity in the visuals to either make a point or get some laughs, similar to how Greg and Earl do in making their films. Most of these visual quirks are actually pulled off quite well, demonstrating the talent at hand. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung does a fantastic job shooting Pittsburgh, capturing the homey spirit of the city from every nook and cranny.
Usually the hardest aspect of teen-oriented films to nail is the performances, with many younger actors seemingly not being up for the tough task at hand. This film’s core three, however, give equally great performances in their respective roles. Thomas Mann as Greg has perhaps the toughest role, as his character has several unlikable aspects about him. Mann is very genuine in the role, however, with his performance making audiences sympathize with Gregg even when he acts up. RJ Cyler brings a lot of swagger and humor to Earl, while Olivia Cooke’s portrayal of a girl with cancer is heartbreaking and honest. Cooke, to me at least, is very much worthy of Best Supporting Actress awards consideration.
Surrounding the young trio is a respectable supporting cast delivering great work themselves. Molly Shannon’s performance is not getting talked about much, but it’s one of the film’s highlights. As Olivia’s mom Denise, Shannon shows off her comedic chops along with a genuine sense of emotional distress. Nick Offerman and Connie Britton play Greg’s oft-kilter parents, and both bring a lot of warmth and humor to otherwise disposable characters. Jon Bernthal also does quality work in a small role as one of Greg’s teachers.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl surprised me in how funny the film was. The script, written by Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the novel the film is based on, takes a quirky perspective on many of the events that go on in the film. Andrews shows a good mixture of comedic styles in his script, from some rather vulgar jokes to more obscure references. There is pretty much something funny for anyone who sees the film, and that kind of versatility is impressive.
Andrews also thrives at writing genuine characters. Each of the three teenagers feel genuine and relatable, never once striking a false cord. Each decision they make, even though it may appear harmful to themselves and others, feels like like the type of decision a teenager would make. All three of the teens are interesting people with a great deal of layers, proving to be far more interesting than their character types would seem to be.
As one would expect, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl packs a rather big emotional punch. Gomez-Rejon’s still direction combined with Andrews’ genuine screenplay creates some tear-jerking moments, as Rachel’s cancer takes a bigger toll on her and her friends. The intimacy and honesty these moments have is what makes the moments feel far more effective, a pleasant change from the melodrama that plagues most teen-oriented films. Themes like appreciating the ones we love and dealing with the possibility of death are handled in a mature, thoughtful manner.
Like other Sundance films, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl suffers from being a bit too quirky at times for its own good. While a lot of the film’s quirkier elements are a welcome addition, the film at times can overdo it with the quirk. Like for instance with Greg’s parents, who at times feel a bit like cartoon characters with how quirky they are, even though both Britton and Offerman give good performances. Some of the quirkier moments feel too cinematic, which hurts a film that is trying to be an honest depiction of difficult subject matter.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl also swims in some familiar waters. This kind of coming of age tale through the eyes of a self-loathing protagonist has been seen and done before, and while it’s executed quite well, it’s hard to escape that feeling of familiarity. It’s no surprise this played so well at Sundance, as the film follows the beats of some of the festival’s most successful flicks.
There are also some minor issues in the film. While the way Chung shoots Pittsburgh is quite impressive, some of the cinematography in the film’s more intimate scenes have some off-putting shot selections. One of the film’s bigger moments took time to adjust to because of how odd the prospective was. Also, while the first and third acts move quite smoothly, the second act lags at points as it translates from being comedic to more dramatic.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a delight, a remarkably honest insight into coming of age and the effects cancer can have on people and those around them. Its quirky edge, while somewhat overbearing at times, works for the most part, giving the film a surprisingly funny side. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, one that I hope does well when it expands nationwide.