Film review of the 31st Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner in the US Drama category. A coming of age story about a surprising friendship between a social outcast and a girl diagnosed with leukaemia.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Indian Paintbrush.
Cast and credits
Producer: Jeremy Dawson, Dan Fogelman, Steven M. Rails.
Writer: Jesse Andrews.
Camera: Chung-hoon Chung.
Music: Brian Eno, Nico Muhly.
Sets: Gerald Sullivan.
Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hall.
Self loathing filmmaker Greg (Mann) is quite happy to sail through his senior year at high school without falling in to any cliques. That is until his parents (Britton and Offerman) inform him that his once childhood friend, Rachel (Cooke) is dying of leukaemia, and that he should spend some time with her. Although neither of them are happy about this forced reunion, they ultimately befriend one another. Greg introduces Rachel to his friend and fellow filmmaker Earl (Cyler) and they are convinced to make a film dedicated to her.
I don’t mean to sound crass, but are cancer stories the new ‘it’ thing now with teens? Have they moved on from sexy monsters to serious illnesses? I only ask because when I was researching this film, I found a lot of people were selling it to a young audience by stating that “if you loved The Fault in Our Stars (2014), you’ll love this film.” I mean fair enough, they are in a way very similar: they are both based on young adult books, they both include a young girl diagnosed with cancer, and they both have a male counterpart helping them deal with this. However, to simply advertise this film to its audience because of these similarities, is not granting Me and Earl and the Dying Girl the attention it deserves as its own film. Because in my opinion it surpasses The Fault in Our Stars.
Firstly the film gets props for somehow managing to make a humorous and uplifting film about cancer. The humour is quick witted, modern and meta, all of which make for intelligent dialogue and a funny response. What really tickled me the most are the classic cinema easter eggs. Greg and Earl make a series of pastiche short films based on well respected films, and we get to see snippets of some of them throughout. Personal favourites include The Seven Seals of course based on The Seventh Seal (1957) and Don’t Look Now (1973) becoming Don’t Look Now, because a Creepy-Ass Dwarf is about to kill you! The humour in this film will satisfy any movie nerd.
The cinematography has a Wes Anderson vibe to it. Every shot is perfectly thought out, full of detail and further adds to the charm.
The casting in this film in also so well done. From Molly Shannon playing Rachel’s boozy, scared mother to Nick Offerman playing Greg’s philosophical, cat loving, exotic food eating father. The cast all serve their purpose well. However, the stars of this film are naturally the three leads. Let us begin by looking at the “Me” and the narrator of this film; Greg.
Thomas Mann plays this character beautifully. He is awkward and uncomfortable with dealing with someone who is extremely ill, and that is so relatable. Instead of being sentimental, the character brings humour in his own quirky way. Now I know that word can extract groans from certain people, but I find that Mann has balanced this trait well. Not as forceful and outlandish as Juno (2007,) but also not as silent and subtle as Scott Pilgrim (2010.)
Olivia Cooke is also impressive. Watching her change from the dry, witty Rachel at the beginning to someone who has lost all hope, provide some of the most heartbreaking moments in this film. Cooke’s chemistry with Mann is undoubtedly strong and their scenes together prove it. You are engrossed in their friendship.
Finishing the trio is Earl. Earl is wise beyond his years and yet acts just as immature as a teen would. Cyler’s performance was one that caught my attention early on in the film. I was interested in what little we knew of Earl’s background, but unfortunately the film doesn’t explain any more about him.
Something which I find refreshing about this film is the fact that there is no forced love story. With many films about three characters, chances are two of them form a romantic arc. Although it is clear that Greg and Rachel do care for one another, the former makes it clear that there is no doomed romance between the two. Instead Me and Earl and the Dying Girl focuses on the main character’s friendship, and I think this is so important. A lot of films and books targeted at “young adults” these days touch on the idea of finding love. Consequently, it gives the impression that falling in love by the time you’ve finished your A levels is more important than it is.
If anything this film’s message is not just about the importance of friendship, but also to love oneself. Greg begins the film by lacking esteem but through his time with Rachel starts to see his own self worth. How more meaningful and deep a message is that? Especially for the intended teen audience who are put under so much pressure to “fit in” amongst their schoolmates.
If you’re not a fan of the kooky indie style of films, as I know some people aren’t, then Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will not change your mind. For me though, the charm, the characters, the cinematography and the humour won me over. However, at the end of the day this film is about a young girl dealing with her illness and Gomez- Rejon does not shy away from its tragic subject. Be warned that there are some gut-wrenching scenes in this film. So just remember to bring tissues or wear waterproof mascara. Sadly, I didn’t.