This review is being re-posted to coincide with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s theatrical release.
Going into Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I expected something akin to The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete in the sense that it would be a grounded, coming-of-age film about friends trying their hardest to get through adversity. In a way, I was both completely off the mark and somewhat on the money, but in the best ways possible. Simply put, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ultimately proved to be the breakout film of Sundance 2015.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Release Date: January 25, 2014 (Sundance)
Greg (Thomas Mann) has made it to his Senior year without pledging allegiance to any one high school faction, yet has built up enough rapport with each to not also cause friction with them. Despite this, he has no friends, save for Earl (RJ Cyler), his partner-in-crime since they were little. Together, they spend their lunches with their history teacher (Jon Bernthal) and watch classic films, even going so far as to re-create them. Greg’s status quo is thrown off when his mother forces him to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow Senior recently diagnosed with leukemia. As their friendship progresses, the two begin to grow closer as Rachel’s illness unfortunately begins to progressively get worse.
Greg soon begins to break out of his shell and actually finds himself as a whole, individual being rather than a transparent everyman meant to appeal to everybody. He also begins to form actual friendships and relationships (throughout the film, he refers to Earl not as his friend, but as his “co-worker” for fear of attachment and loss). The chemistry between Mann and Cooke is front and center for this progression. Mann’s been building his star since his role in Project X, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the perfect type of film to show off his penchant for both comedy and drama. Cooke’s take as a girl inevitably facing death but still trying to not have the disease define her is more layered than the typical “damsel in distress,” but is sometimes relegated to a supporting character to Mann’s spotlit performance. However, Mann’s performance wouldn’t be nearly as strong were it not for his interaction with Cooke.
Throughout the film, snippets of the sweded films Greg and Earl shot are shown, similar to Be Kind, Rewind, homaging such varied films as Apocalypse Now (A Box O’ Lips, Wow), Breathless (Breathe Less), A Clockwork Orange (A Sockwork Orange), and more, which should make for a good special feature when the film’s released on home media. Beyond the easter egg nature of the films, they prove to establish Greg and Earl’s characters, and represent the biggest subplot of the film that culminates in Greg’s final film dedicated to Rachel. In a way, the completion of that film completes Greg’s year-long journey to becoming a tangible person with tangible attachments and feelings.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl balances comedy and drama perfectly, with the high and low emotional hits coming at the proper moments. By the end of my screening, there was a hushed silence as everybody processed everything they saw, which ran counter to the beginning of the screening with everybody laughing loudly. It’s hard to make comedies and make people laugh, and it’s hard to make dramas and make people think – it’s doubly as hard to accomplish both effectively within the same film, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is more than able to carry the load. Better yet, while the film teases and hints at a romantic slant between Greg and Rachel, it smartly avoids going down that predictable path, proving that a dramatic film starring opposing sexes can be successful and entertaining without the necessity of romanticism.
For fans of independent coming-of-age films, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will sit perfectly alongside your collection. Mann delivers a performance that should elevate his already rising career, Cooke will garner praise, and Cyler will hopefully find more open doors in which to showcase his talents beyond a sidekick role. When the hype begins to build for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (and it will), know that, for once, it’s actually truly justified.