A great coming-of-age dramedy, hampered a little by its conventionality.
Movie Review #1,030
Fox Searchlight Pictures
1 hour, 45 minutes
Rated PG-13 (sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)
Released July 1, 2015
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
From the novel by Jesse Andrews
Screenplay by Jesse Andrews
Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Katherine C. Hughes, Gavin Dietz, and Edward DeBruce III
With a voice cameo from Hugh Jackman
Make no mistake, the coming-of-age dramedy is in the midst of a nouvelle vague. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” in 2012, “The Spectacular Now” in 2013, “The Fault in Our Stars” in 2014, and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” in 2015. These four have confirmed my belief in an increasing maverick approach to the teen dramedy–that is, giving a conventional story, but presenting it in an unconventional light. I am eager to see this trend continue, but I fear for it to continue for very long. The sad truth is that with more mavericks to defy the same conformities, the more a new set of conformities begins to solidify among them. That said, I would love to see more films like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, but then again I wouldn’t. The light it sheds on an utterly conventional plot is more maverick than any of the three prior films combined. It definitely works here, but it worked better in prior films of the Post-Hughes New Wave. We didn’t realize in “Perks” or “Now” or “Fault” how conventional the plot really is. By the fourth film in, though, it’s starting to show.
That’s not to say that this isn’t an entertaining movie, or a stylistically brilliant one. It’s certainly both. “Me and Earl” doesn’t simply narrate with a candid eye. It thrives on an extra dose of honesty and even self-deprecation. The titular characters are determined but irrational, respectful but rebellious, mature but juvenile. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon most definitely keeps a subjective voice, but the objectivity that creeps in is massively appreciable.
“Me and Earl” is a joy for film lovers: it’s a delightful independent film that tips its hat to classic independent and foreign films. A key subplot focuses on the friendship between Greg (the “me” in the title) and Earl. They’ve been the best of friends since grade school, when they realized they were the only kids in town who had a strong appreciation for movies. Ever since, they’ve been making movies of their own–parodies of the movies they love. We see some clips of their creations throughout “Me and Earl”, but it’s the titles that win us over. As tempting as it is to reveal some of them, I’ll let the film speak for itself in this area; some of the most priceless moments of this year in movies are in simply hearing these clever titles fly by in dialogue, or better yet, seeing them appear momentarily onscreen.
With a budget of $8 million, “Me and Earl” showcases a style more distinct than nine out of ten Hollywood productions. You often get the notion that Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is really the nom de plume Wes Anderson takes on when he decides to make a John Hughes-esque film. With the exception of its weird and pretentious cinematography, the technical department is as much as half of what makes “Me and Earl” stand out. Its usage of simplistic animations to complement clever voiceovers is a quirky sort of fun. The soundtrack is also formidable. Gomez-Rejon’s usage of opera and classical music (Bach’s “Mass in B minor”, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, Vivaldi’s “Introduction and Gloria in D major”) is as brilliant as Kubrick’s; and his ear for film music (Morricone’s “For a Few Dollars More” theme, Jean Constantin’s opening theme from “The 400 Blows”) is every bit as sharp as Tarantino’s. Gomez-Rejon’s ability to let these pieces take shape on their own, is the icing on the cake. We hear many of the same pieces recurring throughout the film, but while they’re there for comical effect in the beginning, they’re accentuating a much different atmosphere by the end.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” doesn’t cover any unclaimed territory. It’s a seriocomic movie about two longtime best friends, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler), who unexpectedly become best friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl who has cancer. Despite the differences, it feels all too much like “The Fault in Our Stars”. Her insistence that she isn’t dying–and the narrator’s insistence of the same when addressing us–doesn’t do much for the movie, except affirm what seems to be an inevitable close to the movie. Still, we care about these characters as if we’re the fourth friend among them. The moment Rachel tells Greg, “I’m probably going to stop treatment pretty soon,” your heart shatters. You’d think this moment would arrive at the climax of the film, but it has much more of an impact positioned at the center of the film. What more can I say, other than something millions of people have already said a million times about a million other films? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.