Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (2015)
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Glee, American Horror Story)
Synopsis: Aloof and awkward high school senior, Greg, is forced to befriend a precocious girl who recently has been diagnosed with Leukemia. Soon that forced friendship blossoms and both teens are enlightened by the coming-of-age events. Greg also makes quirky dumb film spoofs with his buddy Earl.
What work(s): Unlike other teen flicks, the main character, Greg, I can actually somewhat identify with. Early in the film he makes a point that he is awkward and a procrastinator and genuinely indifferent to most things. He even makes a point to never fit into any particular clique at his school but instead stays in the good standings of each and every one as a “good guy.” (this plays out humorously to great effect when he accidentally breaks his “treaties” to some groups) So right off the bat I like this kid. He’s not an asshole nor has an abundance of teen angst that doesn’t resonate with me as an adult. His world makes perfect sense as I remember it 20-odd years ago. He’s also a cinephile and makes quirky and off-the-wall stupid spoofs of famous and notable classic films (He and his friend Earl take a film’s title, spoofs it and then makes a short film based on that new dumb title; for example: “A Sockwork Orange,” which features Alex and his Droogs as sock puppets terrorizing other sock puppets). Olivia Cooke, who plays the leukemia-stricken Rachel, is fantastic in her role as a very sick but fighting for her life teenage girl. Earl, played by RJ Cyler, was also a great foil to awkward Greg.
Even though the film has very serious and dramatic overtones with the coming to terms with not only adult-hood but with a deadly disease, it has its moment of humor. I have yet to see John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, which also has a very sick teen girl but I can infer from the trailers that Me & Earl is probably more light hearted. And I have to give the film props for not being so heavy-handed as well as lecturing to youth. I highly enjoyed it for a teen-centric film and like I said most of that has to do with the humor and that it didn’t cater to just teens but appealed to adults as well. The soundtrack didn’t pander to youth either (I don’t even remember any relevant pop songs at all) and the score was done by Brian Eno, so it has a very middle-of-the-road musicality. It also had note-worthy dialogue and Wes Anderson-eque visuals with not just the spoof flicks but with some of the cut-aways of what Greg envisions.
But when the shit hits the fan, dramatically speaking, it excels there as well. I would also like to mention how nicely casted, John Bernthal was as the history teacher and friend to Earl and Greg. The friendship between teacher and student wasn’t on par with mentor so much as he was just a cool and hip teacher who let them watch Criterion Collection valued flicks in his office. Sure he spout out some sage wisdom and advice when it was necessary but he was no “O Captain, My Captain” type. But I appreciated that as well as the dire and downtrodden unraveling of Rachel’s condition and how it affects our characters. Like I said, this was done in a very uplifting and zen-like way and not a “life-sucks and what’s it all worth” sort of pessimism or cynicism. And couple that with the unconventional humor and you have a very entertaining and profound film.
What fail(s): Yet, sometimes, there were moments that the humor was too wacky to take in. Greg’s parents, played by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton are too eccentric for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong, Nick Offerman is hilarious in the right doses but here in this film he was too oddball. His parents collectively were too cool to be believable. I could only hope to be that awesome with a teenage kid. Same goes for Molly Shannon who plays even more oddball as Rachel’s single mother who likes the vino, if you know what I mean. I don’t think she’s an alky, just relying too much on the booze to cope with the fact that her only daughter is very sick. Again, she’s too awesome as an adult and acts like a peer to the all the kids she acts with. On the one hand, it’s endearing but it also comes off as too fake. I also wish Earl had a little more to do than just act like Greg’s assistant at times. Sure at the crucial times he pulls through with guiding Greg to better attitudes and gives him advice but for most of the film he’s a silent partner. This wouldn’t bother me so much if the title wasn’t Me and Earl and The Dying Girl.
When I first saw the trailer a while back I liked the idea of the mini-spoof movies that they make and that’s 90% of what attracted me to seeing it. It turns out that those spoof flicks are not so much of a center-point to the movie. We see maybe 7 minutes of snippets of those movies and they’re not as clever as I would’ve hoped. Minor nitpick since the movie overall was better than I imagined.
Overall: I’m more shocked than you are that I actually enjoyed a teen-centric dramedy. Don’t get me wrong, this movie didn’t change my life or anything but I rather enjoyed the performances, the humor and more importantly wasn’t scoffing at the melodrama. In fact, it made me harken back to my teen years in a delightful and contentful way. I genuinely wanted to like the teens in this movie and wished them well. I appreciated their actions and moods and didn’t question any of their motives or attitudes. For once there’s a teen movie that didn’t make me gag, had rewatchability and one that I would highly recommend to teens and adults.
Score: 8 “A Box O’Lips, Wow” (out of 10)