Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, its easy to dismiss this film as wanna be of 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars (which is a pretty good movie in my opinion), but with its good blend of comedy and drama, the film ends up being irresistible and infectious. This film from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who has made a name for himself directing episodes on the 4th season of American Horror Story and the very enjoyable remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, is more heartfelt and inventive than The Fault in Our Stars ever was. And most of this has to do with the brilliant screenplay written by Jesse Andrews. Full credit to screenwriter Jesse Andrews for crafting a story so charming and heartfelt that you cannot help but feel connected in and drawn to these characters. The dialogue is witty and clever whilst never falling into cliches, rather it remains very self aware, especially during Greg’s numerous (and hilarious) monologues. There is something so real and natural about the script that really enable us as the audience to fully become immersed in the film and it’s world. A rare cinematic outing like this film engages with the consideration of loss and death, but provides discussion points about life. One of the key queries that comes out is what we choose to do with the gift of life? Jesse Andrew‘s screenplay of friendship is woven together with a confronting evaluation of life, even life after death. This is brought to a head with a dialogue between Greg and his teacher, Mr. McCarthy, that challenges the teen to understand more about the life we live and the life that is left behind for others to remember. Throughout the darkness of death, this film provides an opportunity to appraise the gift of life. The story follows high school student Greg (Thomas Mann), an every-man kid who enjoys making amateur parody films of classics with his ‘co-worker’ Earl (RJ Cyler) and his relationship with the eponymous dying girl Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Upon learning that Rachel has contracted leukemia, Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forces him to spend time with Rachel, the two soon begin to bond and become friends, a friendship that goes deeper once Earl introduces Rachel to their amateur films and the duo are persuaded to make a film for her.
A friendship that would take him through the best of times, the worst of times, and eventually shape him into the person that he will become. Greg is someone I could relate to because I was basically the same person at that age. A bit of an insecure individual who’s trying to make himself invisible and blend in with the crowd. The message is: make sure no one notices you and use humor, sarcasm and funny one-liners as a defense. Greg’s way of demarcation is to avoid everyone or to maintain superficial contacts. These extreme bad films are shown sporadically and made sure I had a few spontaneous laughs. Not because of their probably ridiculous content, but because of the quirky fictional titles such as “Raging Bullshit”, “A sockwork Orange” or “Vere’d He Go?”. The first ten minutes of the film are stiff and awkward and trapped in teen movie hell, but it’s supposed to be that way, so hang in there. The strange beauty of the film comes from the authenticity of the characters, and the brilliant portrayal of the complexities of terminal illness. In most movies you’re forced to endure a sick person who essentially becomes a passage of philosophy for everyone in their lives, offering wisdom and guidance and poetry and a few well-timed coughs before they sputter away to the sobs and wails of everyone around them. This movie shows what cancer truly is: miserable, with a lot of people offering ridiculous canned sentiment over and over again, who only want to make themselves feel better about what they’re witnessing. Writer Jesse Andrews has pulled off a gorgeous book and screenplay, and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon also deserves props for graceful direction and imagination. Every character is given room to be unique and fully-formed, and retains their humanity to the very end. It also brilliant captures what people miss about others when they remain guarded and unobservant of what lies beyond surface examination — or remain too preoccupied of what others think of them to realize that other people are thinking about a whole lot of different things — not them. It manages to do this without being so heavy-handed about it.
In it’s essence, this is a sweet, sincere and brutally honest portrayal of a coming of age teenager, who has to deal with something that no one quite knows how to handle. We see Greg in constant denial, unable to deal with the fact that Rachel is most likely going to pass away. He is even unable to tell us, the viewers, that this is what will happen. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon lets us watch a big share of this movie through a lens of optimism by specifically stating that Rachel will get better. Thus we take our guard down, letting ourselves really indulge and start deeply caring for Rachel. This is in no way a suspense move in a way to spear the viewer from crying for a 100 minutes. It is genuinely a state of mind that any teenager of Greg’s age would have in a similar situation. Any human maybe. It is in our nature to hope for the best, constantly. Greg heroically and willingly becomes a friend to Rachel, he genuinely thinks that she will get better, even during her last moments.
However this turn of events also makes us pay attention to small details, that otherwise would have been ingrained in trying to cope with a death of a teenager. We deeply analyze how hard this situation is for Rachel’s mother, we can focus more on the relationship between Earl and Greg as well as nostalgically listen to Mr McCarthy’s life stories and lessons. The performances in this film are all magnetic. Every single one of these actors were able to hold their own on screen. The parents in the film, played by Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, and the always delightful Nick Offerman, all do fantastic work. Their relationships with their children are all very grounded in reality and realistically portrayed. Jon Bernthal is incredibly funny as Greg’s history teacher, and is able to depict the “generic cool teacher who understands the main protagonist” in a different, refreshing light. However, the three leads all steal the show. RJ Cyler serves as a foil to Greg’s character. Instead of BS-ing people in order to avoid any direct confrontation, Cyler‘s Earl is very frank with his language and emotions, and gets right to the core of the problem with Rachel. Olivia Cooke gives a very heartfelt and understated performance in this film, and watching her suffering through this sickness that’s eating her up is truly heartbreaking to watch. However, the whole film rides on Thomas Mann‘s shoulders. His detached performance, and the way he handles Rachel’s sickness is so realistically somber. He does a fantastic job with the darker comic moments in the film, and the way his character develops throughout the film is nothing short of stellar.
On the whole, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is little gem of a film which is accessible, honest and humorous. This is a truly beautiful film that is equal parts sad and uplifting. This film won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and it’s not hard to see why. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film filled with heartbreakingly realistic performances, quirky direction, gorgeous cinematography, and spectacular writing. Whether your an art-house fan, a fan of cinema in general, or just the casual moviegoer, there’s something in this film that everyone can relate to.
Overall Rating: 9.2