ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL Movie Review

me, earl cinemynxThe newest contribution to the gut-wrenching kids with cancer genre is ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. This film is more of a kids with cancer movie for the indie nerd crowd than THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, as this film’s kids are far more poetic about life, love and inevitably, death. Our hero of the title – the ME – is Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann of PROJECT X) and he is a modern teenage anti-hero; Not intentionally witty, romantic, insightful or much of anything. The film’s style is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s geometry of cinematography, without the Kodachrome palette, but happily it is more than just style – there is substance here. There are moments where director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon seems to try a bit too hard to give you an emotional yank, but the film balances out nicely in the end and in fact, moves you deeply.

Greg is, save from his sole friend Earl, a loner, and deeply awkward. His mother commands him to go pay a visit to Rachel, a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer. He and Rachel are not friends, but merely classmates and the inelegance of his first visit is painful to watch. Greg’s overall awkwardness is genuinely awkward rather than endearing. His disenfranchisement from almost every one of his peers is understandable¬†though achingly uncomfortable. I can’t say that I would want to be Greg’s friend if I were his classmate. He is benign, but not necessarily innocent, and protects himself by using highly sophisticated antisocial manipulation. It takes solid acting chops¬† to play an awkward teen and not cross the line into caricature or parody, and Mann does a good job with the role. Earl, played to perfection with enlightened honesty by newcomer RJ Cyler, can at least bond with Greg over their shared film projects, which, it should be noted, are genius. Earl has it all together; He is is cool, funny, stylish and is a wise grounded sage. Cyler’s performance was the highlight of this film for me and I anxiously await his next project. Olivia Cooke (THE SIGNAL, OUIJA) possesses a quiet strength in the struggle Rachel faces and in no way sugarcoats the agony and fear that children with cancer face daily. She has a haunting beauty which does not relent even as she succumbs to the pallor and exhaustion of illness.

Greg’s Mom and Dad, who are not named per se other than by their relation to Greg, are played by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton. They are such a valuable part of the story and give such color and humor to the film, especially Offerman, the philosopher king of all fathers who is cloaked in a different ethnic tribal outfit in each new scene. They are the most empathic, earnest New Age parents of all time and yet Gomez-Rejon does not push them into the realm of the ridiculous. Rather they are believable, idiosyncratic and seasoned individuals. They are also funny as hell and while they are endearing and gentle, one can understand how Greg feels like an alien in his own home. The bond between Earl and Greg’s Dad is charming and completely believable and I feel certain everyone had a friend whose preternatural comfort in their home and with their parents superseded their own. It’s a beautiful quirky touch, one of several that give weight to the film which could have all too easily been denigrated to a doomed and tragic teenage love story. There are bits which appear repeatedly and are quietly authentic and funny. Molly Shannon, who plays Rachel’s mother, is wonderful and fully inhabits the denial, terror and torment of what is surely every parent’s deepest fear. Worth mentioning as well is filmmaker Werner Herzog who crops up as an absent one-man Greek chorus and who is an effective piece of the narrative.

The film’s cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung (OLDBOY {2003}, STOKER) underscores Greg’s alienation with its sharp spacial viewpoints. It is at times off-putting but it reinforces the narrative without getting too abstract and alienating. ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is certainly about death, a horrible unfair death, but it is also about regret. Specifically, how do we deal with the unspeakable to move forward without regret? With so much to communicate to her, to leave to her, Greg creates a piece of art for a lifetime, both Rachel’s and his own, and in the end brings beauty and peace to everyone involved. ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL pulls no punches and reminds us to not leave unsaid what we really need to say to those we care about, in whatever way we can, right now.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl Movie Review

Comments are closed.