Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Adapting her own novel, writer Jesse Andrews offers us a look into a year of life of lonely high school senior Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) who has spent his entire high school experience with the sole goal of not pissing anyone off. Acquaintances with several of his classmates, but friend to none, Greg's only outlet outside the carefully constructed web of calm (that happens to be the exact opposite of his home life) are the movies he makes with Earl (RJ Cyler), a longtime friend (even if Greg refuses to refer to him that way).

Greg's carefully crafted world is shattered when his mother (Connie Britton) forces him to spend time with a classmate who has contracted Leukemia. At first spending time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) only to placate his mother, Greg quickly begins to enjoy their time together, even if doing so slowly destroys his world as the aloof teen who has avoided both conflict and making any real choices in his life is put in situations where neither can be avoided.

Given its themes, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl could so easily been a trite melodramatic mess. Surprisingly, thanks to its talented cast and crew, it's not. It's actually really good. While being occasionally a bit too quirky for its own good, Andrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon offer a smart, touching, and moving coming of age story that is far better than I expected it to be. Gomez-Rejon gets terrific performances from his young leads, particularly Cooke who pulls off a difficult role with a grace far beyond her years. The director surrounds his young cast with recognizable faces including Britton, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, and Jon Bernthal.

With its flawed self-conscious male narrator, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl reminded me quite a bit of The Perks of Being a Wallflower not only because of the themes of disconnected individuals making connections but because of how the movie avoids cliched plotholes and traps found in far too many movies dealing with a sick child or teen. And despite giving us a film about a boy and a girl the movie refuses to fall back on easy romantic tropes while allowing a more nuanced friendship to carry the story. Andrews story also incorporates a love of film and amateur filmmaking of a type that I imagine a young Michel Gondry may have enjoyed.

The result is a tremendously enjoyable film about life, death, friendship, unexpected moments that change your life (for both better and worse), and kids growing up way too fast to deal with hard issues of mortality. Sure we get the expected moments in high school hallways and cafeterias, but the scenes the movie chooses to offer us in those locales are smarter than the nearly all of the movie's contemporaries. Far from the classroom, it's in the film's relationships among its three title characters, however, that the movie truly makes its mark be it in amateur film or just being there for each other in times of need. Without straining the point there's a beautiful lesson about life and relationships at the center of the movie we should all take to heart.

Available on both Blu-ray and DVD, the film's extras include a digital copy of the movie, deleted scenes, the trailer, commentary by director Gomez-Rejon, Greg's film for Rachel, a half-hour conversion between Gomez-Rejon and Martin Scorsese, a full list of Greg and Earl's parody films, and a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette.

[20th Century Fox, Blu-ray $39.99 / DVD $29.98]

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