Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by: Jesse Andrews (based on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews)
Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal
Hipster, phony, twee, fake, cliché. These are just a few of the lazy criticisms and buzzwords I’ve read since Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s sophomore film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, winning both the dramatic category’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. Rejon’s follow-up to last year’s remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown focuses on a young high school student named Greg, who along with his best-friend (or co-worker) Earl, forms a lasting, though ultimately doomed, relationship with a classmate. The film was released to near universal acclaim, but has since fallen into the dangerous territory of being labelled “overrated” by pessimistic and cynical moviegoers. The film’s many tributes, send-ups, and references fall on deaf ears in some cases, making the whole experience ultimately a rather annoying one for some.
I see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in a much different light, coming from a film school background and having an unabashed love for all things cinema and art. I saw Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s coming-of-age project as a love letter to the cinema, to friendship, to art, and even to love itself. This film comes off so sickly sweat that it’s almost unbearable, but that’s a big part of why I adore this little film. The send-ups and tributes to film lovers like the Criterion Collection, to filmmakers Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, and to experimental bad boys of film like Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol, the relationships between our three main leads, their teachers, and their parents, and even Rejon’s Wes Anderson-like direction. Every single one of these elements may not be wholly original or as daring as they could be, but they absolutely make for a compelling and incredibly enjoyable 105 minutes.
There’s really not a great deal to say about the film at the end of the day, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is just a great deal of fun, and comes off as personal and sentimental without over-doing it. This is thanks in-part to writer Jesse Andrews adapting his own novel, and from my understanding, doing an incredible job of adapting said novel. The performances from the three young leads (Tomas Mann as Greg, RJ Cycler as Earl, and Olivia Cooke as Rachel, the titular Dying Girl) are incredible for a group of seemingly unknown and inexperienced young actors, and the supporting cast is full of comedic veterans like Parks & Rec’s Nick Offerman, SNL alumni Molly Shannon, and The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jon Bernthal. The cast really shines in its comedic moments, especially in scenes involving the consumption of some special soup, the remaking and parodying of classic and contemporary films (Eyes Wide Butt, Breathe-Less, Anatomy of a Burger, and Crouching Housecat, Hidden Housecat being some of the standouts) and Thomas Mann’s sexual fascination with pillows. Don’t get me wrong though, the film isn’t entirely comedic in tone; there are more heartfelt and tear-inducing moments than you can shake a stick at, which is why the film really resonates with me. Not only is it hilarious and an undeniable love-letter to the things I love most in life, but it also makes you take a look at your relationships with those around you, and what you could be missing out on in life. I won’t pretend that this film changed my worldview in any way, but its message is commendable and feels entirely genuine.
Whether you loved or hated Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, you can’t deny how sweet and genuine the film feels in its strongest moments. The cast incredibly well-assembled and have excellent chemistry, the writing and dialogue are sharp and sure to please any fan of the source material, and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon shows exactly why he’s a name to watch with loose and creative (but never amateurish or impersonal) direction. I highly recommend Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to anybody who feels they can stomach it, and can absolutely see it becoming one of my favorite films of 2015. Highly recommended.