Sunday, June 28, 2015

Movie Review #273: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl " (2015)

Movie"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
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Greg (Thomas Mann) is a self-deprecating, rather cynical teenager. His main purpose in high school is to fly under the radar and be nothing more than an acquaintance to anyone, only exchanging casual pleasantries and never settling into one group. The only person he spends a great deal of time with is Earl (RJ Cyler), whom Greg calls his "co-worker" since they make movies together. This all changes when Greg's mom (Connie Britton) forces him to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg is reluctant at first, but eventually gives in, and much to his dismay, starts to make friends with Rachel. 

With a title like "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" you know you are in for a lighthearted romp where absolutely nothing sad will happen...right?? Unfortunately, this is not true.

It's really hard to put into words our feelings regarding a movie like this. Having lost BigJ's mother to cancer almost 3 years ago, the sting of this loss is still very much felt on a weekly, if not daily basis. To watch a movie like this brings up all sorts of feelings: sadness, mostly, but also anger, resentment, happiness and gratitude, all in the best way as they are expertly shown and grown through its shortish run time. In the film, all of these emotions and more are filtered through the life of Greg Gaines, played brilliantly by Thomas Mann, a senior in high school who is forced by his mother to visit Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke in what could be her breakout role, a school acquaintance who has just been diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia. Greg has a huge sense of self-deprecating humor, but is also socially awkward and sort of a brutally honest. When he visits Rachel for the first time, he makes it abundantly clear he is not there on his own accord, but rather comes out and says his mom was the driving force for his initial visit. He keeps coming back, though, in what he calls a "doomed friendship," but not in a sappy romance sort of way. Apart from being friends but not "friends" with Rachel, Greg spends his school lunchtime in the classroom of Mr. McCarthy, played by Jon Bernthal, a teacher covered in tattoos who frequently chants, "RESPECT THE RESEARCH!" for his students to abide, with his "co-worker" Earl, played by RJ Cyler, who is absolutely excellent here. Earl and Greg have been friends since they were 5 years old, but Greg still doesn't call him his friend, though Earl would disagree. Outside of school, Greg and Earl watch foreign and independent films, as well as make horrible, low budget movie mock knockoffs of them with titles such as "Eyes Wide Butt" and "2:48 pm Cowboy." These movies are not to be shown to anyone under any circumstances because they dislike them so much. Their friendship is strange, but we also understand it in a bizarre way.

Though there are moments of humor in this film, it is still very much about a teenage girl with leukemia. Cancer by itself is already horrible, but when it happens to a teenage girl, well, it's an absolute tragedy. And it's also devastatingly realistic and painfully truthful. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" takes a different approach than other movies with the same type of story as it doesn't fully focus on Rachel and her terminal disease, but on Greg instead, and how becoming friends with Rachel affects his life. It's a coming-of-age story for Greg and he narrates this tale since everything is told from his perspective. Greg prides himself on being casual acquaintances with every group in school never lingering long enough to be considered part of that group; this also means he doesn't create enemies, either. Telling the story in this way shows just how self-centered Greg is as we come to see him as someone who only cares about how things impact him. This will certainly rub some audience members the wrong way, but we think it's actually sort of brilliant. So many teenagers are like this, only caring about the world around them when it involves and impacts them personally, and this is wonderfully captured by Mann's monotonous, teenager-esque performance. Many of his inner thoughts and feeling especially concerning a girl named Madison, played by Katherine C. Hughes, are shown through stop-motion vignettes, which are quite creative and very kitschy, reminiscent of something Wes Anderson might do. The movie also uses a lot of awesome, unique camera angles typical of other indie films, but they are not distracting and only add to its quirk factor.

The bottom line is, while this movie is sad, it is also tremendously acted and beautifully scripted. It offers a unique, more realistic perspective on the high school experience uncommon of many films of today.You will feel it in your gut the entire run time, which doesn't feel slow or long at all. It will be a tearjerker, but has a good, strong message, even for even the most cynical, and even if you haven't lost anyone in your life personally.

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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