Just what does it take to build a film that is at once reverential of movie classics, a coming-of-age comedy, and a movie about loss?
Find out with Cinema Siren’s video review of one of the best films this year:
for those who want to read a review:
There were so many movies vying for big press and buzz at this year’s Sundance Festival. Sneaking in and obliterating the competition was winner of the grand jury prize and the audience award, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and it is my favorite film of 2015. It is a touching, funny film that is a gorgeous study of grief and personal suffering and also an amazingly canny and perceptive coming of age story. Anyone who has had the misfortune of having lost someone close to them as a teenager or even as an adult will be able to relate to and connect with the characters as they awkwardly navigate what is arguably the most difficult part of being human.
You’d think no one would willingly watch a movie about young adults dealing with death, but of course you’d be wrong. The Fault in Our Stars, My Life Without Me, A Walk to Remember, West Side Story, Love Story…
The history of film is riddled with them. What is rarer, is one where humor is used in an authentic, believable way. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is for everyone who enjoys depth of feeling, gut wrenching honesty, and smartass sass. It smashes all those together to make something truly magical.
High school senior Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) tries to stay anonymous to socially survive his last year. His mother (Connie Britton) kindly demands he befriend newly diagnosed leukemia patient Rachel (Olivia Cooke), whom he has avoided since kindergarten. They fumble through an extremely uncomfortable experience of getting close and struggling with her illness, but in the most unassumingly heartwarming way imaginable. Thomas Mann talks about the story:
Added to the fray is Greg’s “co-worker” Earl. He’s been hanging out with him since near infancy, but his screwed up concern about attachment means he won’t admit the friendship. Earl and Greg make movies together that are pithy parodies of film classics, by changing the names slightly and re-filming them in that context. Their oevre includes Senior Citizen Cane, The Turd Man, A Sockwork Orange, and Anatomy of a Burger. This aspect of the movie is sure to win over cinephiles with it’s wide diversity of styles and fun tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Greg cheers Rachel by showing her selections from their heretofore hidden work, and both he and Earl are convinced by Rachel’s friends to make a video meant to inspire her.
Novelist and screenwriter Jesse Andrews shows he knows how to create 3 dimensional characters and can explore struggle without sentimentality or manipulation. There is no preciousness on his part of the direction Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. It’s like a John Hughes movie, only darker and more real, as if Hughes listened to Bill Hicks comedy (a comedian who himself succumbed to cancer) and listened to old Billy Holiday records.
All three lead actors and the co-stars, Nick Offerman and Connie Britton as Greg’s parents, Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom, and Jon Bernthal as Mr. McCarthy, Greg and Earl’s teacher and mentor, are cast exactly right. RJ Cyler as Earl could have used more screen time, as could Olivia Cooke as Rachel, but all are compelling and do amazing ensemble work.
Listen. I am someone who can relate directly to this experience. I had several people I loved dearly die as teenagers. It’s weird. It’s like taking the hardest time of our lives, as we become ourselves, and injecting an intensity of emotion even stable grown-ups shouldn’t be asked to carry. For that reason It seems all the more masterful that the cast and crew built such an authentic and beautiful story and characters, that will no doubt become the stuff of cult reverence. The script, the direction, the acting, is that good, and i’m not sure whether there will be a movie I love more in 2015. Anyway, If Gomez-Rejon hadn’t won me over already, the perfectly placed Brian Eno tune would have done it.
A note to those who find Me and Earl and The Dying Girl cloying: you’ve already died inside. A movie about a dying girl won’t move you.
Be warned. just when you think you won’t cry your eyes out because of the balance of humor and pathos, BAM!
The spectacularly poignant ending, complete with growth, insight, and truth, will rip you apart and just as rebuild you.
5 out of 5 stars.