“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Movie Review

     “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” explores a group of some of the most well drawn and multi layered characters I’ve seen in a film in quite some time.  The primary focus is on a high school senior named Greg (Thomas Mann) who, like many of us at that age and beyond, lives a quirky, if not confused life in which he is very much unsure of who he really is and where he wants to go.  After serving as the second unit director for the Academy Award winning “Argo”, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon completes his second feature with a flair of indie style that plays like a poor man’s early Wes Anderson film with a pastel color palette and an array of geometric camera movements designed to give the film a unique look and feel.  Certainly, the story by Jesse Andrews that is based on his own novel, gives Gomez-Rejon plenty of ideas on where to go visually as the proceedings are loaded with a number of oddball personalities that are all deserving of their own canvas throughout the film.  Ultimately, this is the story of a boy who is thrust into an emotional circumstance he is not currently equipped mentally to handle, resulting in a story that is both real and touching at the same time.

     Greg and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) are the exception to the kind of kids who grow up needing to be constantly entertained by the excitement of video games and amusement parks.  At an early stage in their childhood, both were exposed to classic films, among other things, by Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman), who sat them down on the couch and showed them films such as Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”.  While other kids who visited were squirming in their seats from boredom, Greg and Earl’s eyes were glued to the television screen, clearly analyzing how each scene was constructed and how each actor uttered every line.  This vast film knowledge built over time inspired the duo to begin making their own films, which would be spoofs of the classics they had grown up watching.  In all, by the time they reached their senior year, they had made forty two films, but still remain humble, never boasting of their talents and normally downplaying the fact they have any skill at all.

     While Greg seems comfortable behind the camera or sitting in front of his computer, he is socially awkward at school, choosing by his own admission to remain invisible to others.  He even refuses to refer to Earl as a friend, preferring instead to call him a “coworker”.  He states his daily goal of staying in the good graces of every social group within his school.  As he walks through the cafeteria, you can tell people know who he is, but neither he nor they take the next step and actually stop to talk to one another.  When Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) tells him one day that a family friend, who also happens to be Greg’s age and goes to the same school, has just been diagnosed with cancer, you can tell the last thing he wants to do or even knows how to approach is to go to her house and try to lift her spirits.  After all, the girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), is just another of those acquaintances Greg normally tries to avoid, but this time his mom is asking and so he obliges. 

     What Gomez-Rejon really nails in his film are a collection of scenes that seem to be nothing more than some of life’s everyday occurrences, but later showing how important those interactions are to someone who might not have much longer to live.  Though Greg is clearly uncomfortable during the first few visits with Rachel, you can sense their closeness in a way that’s not predictable, but natural.  The other characters in the film play along with this relationship well and contribute the kind of advice to Greg you would think they would give based on where they figure into his life.  Naturally, Greg and Earl go into production on a new film in honor of Rachel and to celebrate her life.  Rachel’s mother, Denise (Molly Shannon), is broken by the situation and alludes to the fact that Rachel’s father walked out on them years ago in favor of someone else.  Her presence functions as a sort of buffer between Greg’s apprehension with regularly visiting Rachel and the budding relationship that results from the time they spend together. 

     What stands out about “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” most is how convincing these characters are as the relationships evolve from the kind of conversations where very few words are spoken and then end up flourishing into interactions where you can feel a true emotional connection.  Whereas many films dealing with this subject matter often come off as pretentious, Gomez-Rejon treats the situation as something all of us are bound to have to deal with and doesn’t infer that everyone should handle it the same.  Being Greg is difficult enough.  Having to befriend someone who is sick and become their rock when you yourself are in a state of fragility for other reasons, means you must dig deep in order to show the other person you are now genuinely committed to being there for them.  And Rachel couldn’t be more appreciative.  Seeing her eyes light up as she learns more about Greg, Earl, and the films they have made is truly one of the joys of watching this story unfold.