‘Me and Earl’ Is To Die For (FILM REVIEW)


In the midst of the summer movie blockbuster extravaganza, it can be easy to forget what it is that makes movies so special. Between all the slow motion explosions, the epic hero shots, and the damsels in distress, no one would blame you if a sense of jaded ambivalence settled into your brain and turned you off of going to the movies for good. Hell, I’ve been there myself. But every once in a while, a sleeper sneaks into the multiplex in the summer months, revitalizing your love affair with cinematic traditions and serving as a reminder of what the experience of seeing a movie could and should be like.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is, without question, a shining example of everything I love about movies. It shouldn’t have been surprising, I suppose, given that it took home both the Grand Jury and Audience award at this year’s Sundance, but it was still a breath of fresh air in a season known for stagnation.

Based on the book by Jesse Andrews (who also wrote the script) the film follows the senior year of Greg (Thomas Mann) and the friendship he forges with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) after she is diagnosed with leukemia. Though pushed into the friendship by his parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) Greg and Rachel form a unique bond that changes both of their outlooks on life, love, and friendship. As Rachel’s disease progresses, Greg and his friend—or, rather, his “co-worker”—Earl (RJ Cyler) are prompted to make a movie celebrating Rachel and her life. Despite the fact that Greg and Earl have been “filmmakers” for years (their oeuvre is taking classic works of cinema and “making them stupider.” For example there’s A Sockwork Orange, which is a sock puppet parody of A Clockwork Orange, and A Box of Lips, Wow, their Apocalypse Now parody about two soldiers who find a box of tulips and muse on the horrors of war and the beauty of life) they are at a loss of how best to honor their friend who may or may not live to see graduation.

For sure, the chance that this movie would descend into sappy pap was very high. Ostensibly it’s geared towards a 15-17 year old audience, and such movies are not necessarily known for having subtlety and grace. And yet, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl never manages to fall into the trappings of sentimentalism, creating, instead, a wonderful portrait of adolescence and growing up that hits across generations. Indeed, while I’ve no doubt that this movie will become a touchstone for today’s teenager, this is not merely a movie for teens. This is a rare movie that transcends its target market to become something relatable to people of all ages.

Much of this is due to the direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, best known for his work on American Horror Story and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. While neither of those additions to his resume suggest the capability of handling a movie such as this, Gomez-Rejon has crafted a beautifully shot and paced work that absolutely elevates his esteem as a director. His scenes are framed with a master’s eye for imagery that, in the hands of a lesser director, could have easily just been phoned in. He brings to life Andrews’s story—and beautiful script—with stunning emotion, hitting the highest of notes to create a modern classic.

As to performances, everyone involved with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deserve hearty ovations for what they’ve brought to the screen. Mann and Cooke, especially, bring nuance to their roles, breathing life into their characters with absolute skill. Even the smaller roles, like Offerman’s or Rachel’s mom (Molly Shannon) are handled beautifully, giving credence to the old stage adage that there is no such thing as small roles, only small actors.

There really are no two ways about it, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is, simply, one of the best movies of the year. It’s been days now since I screened it, and it has stuck with me entirely in that time. It’s poignant, hilarious, charming, heartwarming, heartbreaking, beautiful, life affirming, and divine. It’s delightful in every possible way. Have I oversold it? I don’t know if I believe that to be possible. This is a movie not to be missed.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is in theaters now.

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