Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review - This is the part where we go on pretending that a little friendship never killed anyone
We call it movie magic. The moment a film transcends words and sounds and pictures to become something more. A part of us. Very rarely do we find it though, that film so close to perfection you can’t help but wonder how every tiny insignificant little detail happened to just fall magically into place. But that’s exactly what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) turned out to be. The most unpretentious, vulnerable, heartbreakingly honest look at society a studio can serve up. It doesn’t matter if Fox Searchlight makes a huge profit off their $12 million dollar steal from Sundance, they’ve made the best decision a film company can, in putting their name to a piece of art that will hopefully stand the test of time. Not for its action, not for its one liners, and certainly not for its special effects. Just plain and simply for its heart.
The story is a straightforward one. Based on the book by Jesse Andrews, the title pretty much says it all. There’s a guy named Greg, a teenage boy who skirts the edges of life. He’s the ‘me’. Not one to fit in with any group in the high school cliché, or even call his clearly best mate his friend, Greg is someone avoiding the best parts of life, so as not to feel the worst. Then there’s Earl, the said best friend and nonchalant ‘co-worker’ who helps Greg construct some of the corniest and arguably kookiest homage’s to classic cinema greats around. Lastly, along comes Rachel, the titular ‘dying girl’, and with her is the slow progression into the sad fact of life that is cancer. When she is diagnosed with Leukaemia, hardly ever having spoken to either boy before, Earl’s mother decides it’s time to see him be a human, and forces him to visit her. The two awkwardly begin a friendship, and so starts the calendar countdown of their doomed friendship. Whilst it would be unforgivable to reveal the ending, like all classics in the making, it’s the journey that counts and they get there in a humorous, inventive and bolstering life-affirming style.
Now, it’s a big deal to say a film is the better Fault in Our Stars (2014). Especially when John Green fans everywhere will be poised to stab you in the eye for even suggesting such a thing. But Hazel and Augustus’ story doesn’t hold a flame to this young adult achievement. Probably because they got lost somewhere within the expectation and unreasonable perspective that romantic love is the be all and end all. That’s not the point, and it’s never made clearer than in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The point isn’t to fall madly, deeply, and endlessly in love, so that you get your own piece of infinity. Most of the time, it’s just about witnessing the beautiful sad tragedy that life usually is. This films greatness and ability to trample all over The Fault in Our Stars stems not from its epically hard-hitting monologues (or eulogies), or display of how awful cancer can be (we get it by now, cancer sucks), but from it’s sheer, profound and moving normality.
It’s been a long time since cinema has witnessed a film where every actor is at their peak. There’s generally always one person who lets the team down, and spirals into stereotypes, idiosyncrasy, or lack of expression. Perhaps that’s why Me and Earl hits such highs, because not a character is out of place, nor an expression overblown. Mann owns the screen as protagonist Greg, for once not the clear-cut charmingly gorgeous yet understated goofball. He’s a gopher faced weirdo. A dog in human clothing. And that’s what makes him so charismatic, his weirdness splattering on us and never once apologizing for it. Cooke too comes as a breath of fresh air, neither the classically beautiful leading lady, nor too caught up in her rising stardom to forget how people are actually human beings. It speaks volumes to her quality that the young lady actually shaved her head for the role. Her Rachel is a sadly melancholic drawing you stumble upon at the museum, tucked away on the highest level, way back in the corner. You know it’s the best piece as soon as you see it. Rounding out the trio though is newcomer RJ Cyler, who quietly shines as perhaps the true breakout. Don’t let the fact his face barely registers more emotion than Kristen Stewart in the Twilight (2008) franchise fool you, his comedic timing is impeccable, and he has the amazing ability to turn his continual awkward referencing of ‘dem titties’ into one of the best running jokes of the film. But as always, it’s the older supporting characters who steal the show, with Nick Offerman an oddball gift that redefines the crazy cat lady benchmark, and Jon Bernthal the best damn teacher you could every really ask for. Respect the research on both parts.
But it’s time to truly bestow credit where credit’s due. Someone needs to give Alfonso Gomez Rejon an award, if not to simply make sure his head doesn’t get too big that he begins to fall in a hole. The Spielberg-esque protégé surely has a solid and lengthy career ahead of him, with his quirky and distinctive style and fine eye for the perfect shot. Sometimes it’s nice to see the world at ninety degrees. Whilst some have termed his latest feature an annoying trial into pandering to the self-absorbed movie fanatic, the films continual referencing between Kubrick and Herzog is both a statement to how films can come to be masterpieces, and how authenticity is potentially lost amidst the cinematic greats today. Good films don’t come from artsy re-imaginings of benchmark pieces. They come slowly, and inexplicably, from a powerful and urgent understanding of life.
Not everyone will love this piece, not everyone will credit it as I have. But that’s just life, and it’s the same lesson Greg learns within the 105 minutes we get to spend with him. But in the end, if you see it for anything, see it ‘only because cancer’. Because cancer done right. Because good films kill people, eating us from the inside out, and leaving us with the plain and simple truth that people, like films, are worthy of remembering.
Rating: 4.5 Moose Trampling Feels out of 5.
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