ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (USA/12A/105mins)
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Starring Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann,Connie Britton,RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon
THE PLOT: Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high school senior who, after years of struggling to find the right balance, is just the right amount of invisible at school. Greg’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos when his mother (Connie Britton) insists that he spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl from his school who has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
THE VERDICT: It doesn’t seem like it has been that long since THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was released in Irish cinemas, but here we are again with another teen cancer movie in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Unlike Although this big screen teen cancer flick may be filled with quirky characters and teens with affectations, it somehow feels more honest than the John Green film from only last year.
Thomas Mann is strong in the leading role as Greg; he captures the affected youth feel in the character, and his voice over, although flowery in places, is wry, funny and ultimately, honest. Mann is charming enough for this self involved character to work, and he makes Greg likeable and warm. RJ Cyler plays Earl, Greg’s best friend since childhood, who he makes spoof silly movie remakes with, and who Greg mostly refers to as a ‘co-worker’ rather than a friend. Cyler makes a small character memorable and, although he may hide under a layer of bravado, Earl is actually and observant and kind character. Olivia Cooke rounds out the central trio, and makes Rachel less of a manic pixie dream girl, but one who certainly hides her pain and suffering for the sake of her friend. Rachel is self aware and observant, and Cooke works well with her co-stars. The rest of the cast is made up of Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal, Molly Shannon and Catherine C. Hughes.
The story, based on a novel by Jesse Andrews, was adapted for the screen by the author, and has a feel of a Wes Anderson film to it at times. Motion stop animation is used to illustrate points made in the voice over, and although the spoof movie idea may be a little too pleased with itself – titles include ‘Death in Tennis’, ‘Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs’ and ‘My Dinner with Andre the Giant’ – this does feel the affected nature of the characters. The cancer issue is dealt with in a clever and sweet manner, and is never really allowed to overwhelm the story, which focuses on the ‘doomed friendship’ instead.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who most recently worked on TV’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY, makes the film light and bright, with darkness creeping in around the edges. The performances from the entire cast are strong, although some are given more of a focus than others, but there is a cohesive feel to the film and, although Greg feels a little like a manic pixie dream boy at times, he is soon brought down a peg or two by the people who really know him. The pacing is strong, for the most part; it is a joy to spend time in this quirky world, but there are times when too much focus is given to a gag, which then slows the movie down to a crawl. The film is also beautifully shot, with some unexpected shots and off kilter framing.
In all, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is filled with affectations and self involved youths, but that feels honest for a film about 18 year olds. The performances are strong, the film beautifully shot and, although the pacing loses it from time to time, these affected youths are honest and moving.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Honest & moving
  • filmbuff2011

    With a title like Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a depressing melodrama like If I Stay. Instead, it’s an honest, warmly humourous and bittersweet story about friendship. Greg (Thomas Mann) is a teenager about to finish school and go to college. He has low self-esteem, sees himself as socially awkward and unable to fit into the cliquey nature of high school. Instead, he shares his passion for cinema with buddy Earl (RJ Cyler), remaking classics into deliberately bad parodies with silly titles e.g. A Sockwork Orange or 2:48pm Cowboy. When his mother (Connie Britton) suggests that he reaches out to Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl whom he is aware of but doesn’t really know, he reluctantly takes up the request. For Rachel has been diagnosed with leukaemia and could use someone to cheer her up. Thomas does more than that though. Over the course of their ‘doomed friendship’, Thomas becomes the rock upon which Rachel holds onto as her fragile body slowly drains of life… Given that they paid $12m for it at Sundance (the biggest so far) 20th Century Fox will no doubt be banking on Me And Earl And The Dying Girl’s similarity to The Fault In Our Stars. However, it stands apart and on its own two feet as being distinctive enough. This is made clear early on by some quirky stop-motion animation depicting Greg’s interaction with the hot girl that is out of reach to him. Or so he thinks. Adapted from his book of the same name, Jesse Andrews’ charming story is about friendship, loyalty, sacrifice and never giving up on the people you care about and vice versa. It benefits greatly from a talented young cast who completely nail their characters. After a disappointing turn in Ouija, Cooke shows great potential as a dramatic actress. Kudos to her for really shaving her head – no obvious bald cap there. Mann is sweet and affecting as the downtrodden guy who finds friendship in an unlikely place. Older actors like Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal lend good support with roles that could have been one note but are actually well defined. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s only other credit as a director is the little-seen horror remake The Town That Dreaded Sundown. That was a good film, but with this film he’s found a more emotional and heart-wrenching story. Being funny and sad in tone at the same time is a delicate balance to pull off, but here Gomez-Rejon does it with the ease of an experienced director. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a real charmer, particularly for film buffs (look fast to spot all the film references). It comes highly recommended. ****

  • emerb

    “Me, Earl and The Dying Girl” is a charming and quirky story about a misfit teenager who doesn’t fit into high-school, his unlikely black friend, Earl, and the terminally ill, cancer-ridden girl he befriends. Director Gomez-Rejon and writer Jesse Andrews (who adapted his own 2013 novel) make great use of the imaginatively funny and smart script, deftly balancing comedy and drama to create a coming-of-age story that ventures into tragic circumstances but never succumbs to sentimentality. On paper, another teen coming of age story about a maudlin young adult romance should not work, but it does and with surprising success.

    Narrator Greg (Thomas Mann) has spent most of high school trying to be casual friends with everyone while remaining as invisible as possible at the same time. He wants to remain anonymous and has mastered the art of navigating all the clichés of high school life. His goal is to make it through all four years as the invisible kid so he makes his way from class to class without significantly speaking to anybody and eats lunch in the office of Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal), his history teacher, rather than actually connecting with the high school experience. In his spare time, he watches bizarre foreign language flicks with an equally deadpan mate, Earl (RJ Cyler). Earl has been his one consistent friend since boyhood but Greg has a serious issue with getting close to people and his protective emotional barricade is so thick he insists they’re not friends, they’re “co-workers”. The two spend most of their free time secretly recreating their own short parodies of their favourite classic films, giving them humorous titles such as “My Dinner with Andre the Giant” and “The Janitor of Oz”.

    Life becomes more complicated for Greg when his pushy mom (Connie Britton) forces him to go befriend a classmate he barely knows, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. At first, Rachel is aghast at the parentally obligated pity date and is no more enthusiastic about the idea than Greg is. After a grudging, clumsy first encounter, they hit it off, becoming fast friends. Rachel quickly responds to his offbeat sense of humour and finds that he’s just the kind of friend she needs to take her mind off her dim prognosis. Despite Greg’s inherent awkwardness, a deep and true friendship blossoms between the pair. Eventually, Greg gets coerced by Earl and another friend into making a film just for Rachel, but months after starting he can’t seem to finish it and this leads to some serious tensions all around.

    It has to be said that the success of this film firmly belongs to the work of the spectacular cast, whose incredible performances give the screenplay authenticity despite its eccentricities. In particular, the three leads, Mann, Cooke and Cyler, approach their roles with maturity and sensitivity for the heavier parts and perfectly judged comic timing for the lighter elements. This is the best material of their careers and they simply nail it. The shaggy, insecure and not particularly handsome Mann is excellent as a deeply self-critical guy who is uncertain about the future and is afraid to live up to his potential makes. Cooke brings to Rachel an honest, sincere and open charisma and you can’t help but love her. Cyler in particular stands out as Earl, Greg’s creative wingman and voice of reason, who is both engagingly droll and very funny. Outside the main characters, Nick Offerman provides deadpan comic relief as Greg’s eccentric and dopey dad who potters about the house in his bathrobe, cooking up exotic and often disgusting delicacies. Molly Shannon brings some heartbreaking laughs as Rachel’s mom who has an amusing relationship with Greg and Earl, offering them alcohol and baring her soul to them. Katherine C. Hughes does nice work as Madison the drop-dead gorgeous, popular girl in school who’s fiercely loyal to her best friend. She manages to add an extra dimension to her role, which could so easily been just the hot girl movie stereotype.

    “Me, Earl and The Dying Girl” is one of the most enjoyable movies I have seen so far in 2015. It is wonderfully indie-creative, offering a multitude of cute quirks, clever laughs, and creative asides. Ultimately, however, it’s a very personal story and it feels real and grounded in reality. The harsh realities of leukemia treatment are touched on during Greg’s daily visits to Rachel’s house but they never dominate the film’s mood. While it is profoundly sad to watch Rachel lose her hair, lose her energy and eventually lose her interest in getting better, the film has just the right amount of humour to lighten the weighty subject without trivializing it. Both Gomez-Rejon and writer Jesse Andrews seem very aware of how this genre can become predictable and they constantly disrupt our expectations in inventive and creative ways, such as eccentric animated asides, overlaying the screen with self-aware titles to frame the story in Greg’s voice, such as “Day 7 of Doomed Friendship,” stop motion animation and numerous unconventional sequences (one hilarious episode involving dope and a melting popsicle!). Along with the beautiful direction, it should be also be noted that much credit for the originality must go to the creativity of the cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and also the gorgeous music from Brian Eno and Nico Muhly. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is fresh, beautiful, heartbreaking and memorable, with continuous surprises around every corner. It is one of those movies which, despite offering plenty of handkerchief moments, is brimming with wit, laughs, tears, love and laughter. For me, this movie could be called a classic.