Sometimes small movies creep up on you unexpectedly to remind you why you love films. This quirky coming of age teenage film is one of those types of films. For my money this is one of the pleasant surprises of 2015. Though I don’t know if you can really say a film that won the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize is an underdog or surprise.
Its director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (directed episodes of Glee and American Horror Story) is largely unknown other than having directed some television and the young actors are also of the under the radar variety. There are some well-known adult actors, but the film is not on their shoulders. Much of the credit has to go to the director Gomez-Rejon who had a vision for this oddball small film and extended his confidence onto his young cast.
I had some doubts in the opening moments of the film with its overly clever narration and the claim that this was not your typical teenage romance film. Sometimes you can be too smart for your own good; this is not one of those times. The cumbersomely titled Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a good film and time well spent at the theatre.
The characters – all of them young or old – are all realistic in that they are all complex. Unfolding, the story never takes the easy way out. It never stoops to characters doing what we have seen in tons of other films like resorting to a physical response to a difficult situation. What they face is real and what happens is real. Props should be given to screenwriter Jesse Andrews (who based the screenplay on his novel) for constructing teenage characters that do not behave perfectly. Rather he has brought to the screen teens who act like teenagers we all know – flaws and all. Does this without allowing them to slip into that boring category.
After being pushed into spending time with a schoolmate who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia by his overbearing mother (Connie Britton – from television’s Nashville), Greg (Thomas Mann – Project X, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) does not try to comfort Rachel (Olivia Cooke – from television’s Bates Motel) by slipping into the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Maturely, they just stay friends and he tries to support her through her illness and chemotherapy treatments. He, with his best and really only friend Earl (RJ Cyler) who he calls his co-worker, keep Rachel going by showing her the odd short films they have made that are take offs on famous films. For instance, A Sockwork Orange is their homage to A Clockwork Orange.
You might find the film a little self-involved as it is another film about making films, but because of its smartness and likeability it does not rub you the wrong way. The young cast and the steady hand of the director both contribute to the fact that it works. Despite the fact that the three lead young characters are a little too quirky and too smart you end up invested and believe in them. You want everything to work out for these teens.
It does have its flaws, but because it is sweet and smart enough Me and Earl and a Dying Girl is a winner.