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Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Premise: Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high school student who spends most of his free time studying cinema and making short parodies of classic films with his friend Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow student who is going through treatment for leukemia.

What Works: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is in touch with the sensibilities and styles of the Millennial generation in much the same way that the films of John Hughes and the novels of Bret Easton Ellis got the youth culture of the 1980s. The filmmakers simultaneously grasp the anxieties of adolescence that cut across multiple generations while presenting them in the way that they manifest at this particular moment in time. The film centers on Greg, played by Thomas Mann, a loner who has worked out an elaborate system that he believes makes him invisible to the rest of the social cliques at school and therefore protects him from bullying and humiliation. Greg’s obsession with invisibility is especially particular to this generation; the film is about a young person deliberately alienating himself from the world around him. Greg doesn’t even refer to Earl (RJ Cyler) as his friend, instead calling him a coworker. They collaborate on absurd parodies of classic Hollywood movies and art films like “Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs” (instead of Mean Streets) and “Senior Citizen Kane.” These little movies are perfect for the YouTube generation; they repurpose old material, sport irreverent and dry humor, and—most importantly—express affection for the things they love by ironically ridiculing them. Greg and Earl silently recognize their shared interests without declaring their friendship and it’s an authentic portrayal of young male relationships. The crux of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl exists between Greg and Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke. Greg’s mother forces her son to hang out with Rachel after her diagnosis. Greg finally experiences an authentic and meaningful relationship with another person but Rachel is more than Greg’s mechanism for self-actualization. Cooke is great in the role; she is not just a sick teenager and the movie handles her illness with the right mix of humor and pathos. The style of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also notable. The story is told subjectively from Greg’s point of view which allows the movie to take on a stylized look similar to a Wes Anderson film. That works for the movie, giving it a unique and personalized tone and puts the viewer in the headspace of an angsty teenager.  

What Doesn’t: Like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is a movie about Millennial culture. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl speaks in the terms of the younger generation and as such older viewers may be alienated by it. For a movie about teenagers of the Millennial generation, social media is strangely absent from their lives. They have laptops and other electronic devices but the characters aren’t connected and sharing their experiences through those platforms the way that today’s young people usually do. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a sick teenager movie and sick teenager movies are a lot like family dog movies; any astute viewer will realize where this is going and it’s not going to end happily. Greg, in his narration, attempts to misdirect the audience’s expectations but the way the film does that is debatable. Without giving too much away, the point of view character is dishonest with the audience and not even in a way that’s clever. As a matter of storytelling, the merit of that lie is dubious. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also a movie in which the main characters are cinephiles; that can be obnoxious, just as it is when the main character of a novel is a writer. However, it generally works in this movie since Greg and Earl’s interest is very specialized.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary track, trailers, interviews, Greg and Earl’s short films.

Bottom Line: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a well-made drama that mixes comedy and tragedy very well. Although the picture operates within a familiar story template it also includes a lot of unique flourishes and insight into contemporary teenage life that gives it some added impact.

Episode: #571 (November 29, 2015)