"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015)- Movie Review

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Jesse Andrews (based off the acclaimed novel by Jesse Andrews)
Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke

‘A Breath of Fresh Air’

In a Summer that has so far offered big-budget blockbusters, slapstick comedies and mindless action movies, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” stands out like a shining light-bulb. An insightful, relatable and deeply moving film which sticks with you long after the credits roll, it puts movie-goers into the shoes of a high-school student coping with the challenges of life. Although the story may be familiar to those that have had to deal with such struggles, this latest indie comedy is one of the most original films of the year.

In fact, calling “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” an original film may be an understatement. It’s unusual, unconventional and unlike any film that has been released so far this year. Although I’ve seen many coming-of-age films over the last few years, such as “The Breakfast Club” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, none have been as unique as this one. To put it into simplest terms, perhaps the best way to describe “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is that it’s different. It’s no wonder, then, that the film took home the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Neither is it surprising the the film has earned glowing reviews from both critical and commercial audiences alike. If anything is certain, the out-of-this-world praise that this latest coming-of-age drama has received has been well-deserved.

However, it’s not only because of the sheer originality that’s been brought to the table by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Aside from being a creative piece of art, the film is an enlightening examination of how teens deal with high-school on a daily basis. From the ways in which they talk to how they behave in certain situations, it does a spot-on job of capturing characteristics that adolescents exhibit. As in real-life, high-school is one of those experiences in life that teens either love or hate. For some, it is an exciting experience which they look forward to everyday. For others, it’s a nightmare that they try their best to run from but simply cannot avoid.

Greg, the main character at the center of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, can’t stand the sight of it. A socially awkward teenager, he prefers to spend time making movies with Earl, his best friend, rather than doing schoolwork. However, his uneventful life takes a turn for the better when he meets Rachel, a girl recently diagnosed with Cancer. As an unexpected bond forms between the two, Greg’s outlook towards life drastically changes.

If you think this story sounds depressing and glum at a first glance, you may be in for a surprise. Given that it deals with a subject as harsh as Cancer, one would assume that “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” would be a sad film. Yet, surprisingly enough, it isn’t. Although it is filled with moments of heartache and grief, the movie is not a tear-jerking experience that makes you cry every 5 minutes. Instead, it’s a film that has plenty of heartwarming humor that balances out the drama. Wait a minute…humor in a movie about Cancer? That may sound odd on paper, and even a little off-putting, but don’t let this be the reason why you refuse to see “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”. Blending comedy, drama, and realism, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has crafted one of the best films of the year- proving that movies which tackle sensitive subjects such as Cancer don’t always have to be sad. Cancer movies tend to be depressing, in general, so it’s rather refreshing to come across one that is filled with moments of laugh-out-loud humor.

Not since 2012’s  “Silver Linings Playbook”, which was released nearly three years ago, has a movie combined humor and drama in such a unique way. Like David O. Russel’s awards-season hit about mental illness, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is a film that offers larger-than-life characters whom you come to care about. For instance, Greg is an anti-social teenager who is obsessed with watching movies but not the least bit concerned about school. Due to his self-centered attitude, and pessimistic outlook towards life, Greg is certainly not the most likable person in the world. Still, it’s hard to not relate to him in one way or another. Being a long-time movie buff, I personally found myself identifying with Greg’s fascination with movies.

 Yet, that’s not to say that you have to love movies to be able to relate to Greg. Besides being a film-geek, he also exhibits characteristics which anyone that has ever gone through high-school can connect with. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, for example, Greg panics out of awkwardness when confronted by an attractive girl. It’s these type of situations that make the film highly relatable, particularly for high-school students. When combined with sharp, witty and insightful dialogue, as well as well-rounded characters, it’s hard to not be captivated by these situations.

It’s also hard to not admire the fantastic performances from the young, yet gifted cast of actors. Despite being new to the industry, with little to no experience, the three leads enrich the film with their complex portrayals of teens at crossroads with life.

While Greg is a fascinating character, it’s doubtful that he would have been as interesting to watch if he wasn’t played by a talented actor. Thankfully, however, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has found a born-to-be-star in Thomas Mann, who delivers a spellbinding performance that will not be forgotten in the years to come. With a charming presence and impressive range, Mann perfectly embodies the ‘feeling’ of being a teenager. Whether coping with sadness, disappointment, joy or moments of happiness, the way he conveys emotions that every adolescent deals with in life is dead-on and highly realistic. What’s perhaps most stunning about his performance, though, is the range that Mann has for a newcomer. At one moment, he makes you roll on the ground with uncontrollable laughter but at another he breaks your heart. That kind of range is extraordinary, especially for an actor of his age. If you’ve never heard of Thomas Mann until now, I can assure you that you will be hearing alot about him in the not-so-distant-future.

Another star to keep an eye out for in the future is Olivia Cooke, who gives a powerful performance as a teen who loses hope after being diagnosed with Cancer. It’s an extremely challenging role which demands great commitment and dedication from an actor. In the money-making business of entertainment today, not many actors have the bravery or courage to take on such a huge responsibility. Fortunately, however, Olivia Cooke is an exception. Sympathetic, emotional and heartbreaking, Cooke disappears into the role to the extent that you almost forget that she is acting. Although it’s the sort of role that is easy to over-act, and play in a heavy-handed manner, Cooke brings it to life in the most realistic way possible. That’s not just the sign of a good actress, but the hallmark of a great one.

The last actor in the cast who deserves recognition is RJ Cyler, providing hilarious comical relief which gives the audience a break from the depressing moments in the film. In his first-ever debut role, Cyler works so brilliantly alongside his co-stars that it seems as if he is friends with them not just in the film but also in real-life.

Despite these unforgettable performances, unfortunately “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not a film without flaws. Although I was deeply moved by this movie, there are times when I felt more annoyed than impressed by it’s inventive style. One of the techniques that the movie uses to capture the attention of the viewer is subtitles. For instance, Greg counts down how many days he has spent with Rachel in their ‘doomed friendship’. While it is a unique device that grabs your attention in the first-half, towards the end of the film it becomes repetitive and unnecessary.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” also drags towards the end, which may cause movie-goers to check their watch impatiently for the time. At a running time of less than 2 hours, you’re completely invested in the story, characters and message. That is, however, until the last hour of the film which goes on for longer than necessary. Although it never gets boring, if the filmmakers trimmed down the length there’s a chance that the film could have been even better.

In the long run, though, a wonderful soundtrack that pays homage to classical films, an unpredictable story that heads in directions you don’t expect and a meaningful message more than make up for these problems. Particularly praise-worthy is the score, a combination of music from classic films, which is a dream come true for movie-buffs.

It’s been a week since I saw “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, but ever since I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. That rarely ever happens, and may be the highest compliment that I’ve payed any movie.

4/5 stars

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