SIFF Film Review – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Intro: Normally when I write a review, I try to write a nice essay that is cohesive and flows nicely from one subject to another. (You can be the judge on whether I’ve ever successfully followed through on that.) But I’ve been pondering for two days on how to do that with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the new film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. I saw it at a press screening for the Seattle International Film Festival and was so damn weepy through the whole thing I’m having a hard time getting my proper essay format on. So you’re getting this instead.
Synopsis: High school senior Greg (Thomas Mann) has a delicate equilibrium going on at school; he’s a lone wolf, but moderately friendly with most of the social groups on campus and has been pretty successful at keeping under the radar. He feels awkward and dopey, and quite frankly doesn’t have a very high opinion of himself. He does have one friend however – although he insists on calling him a co-worker to dispel any sense of intimacy – Earl (RJ Cyler). Earl and Greg have known each other since kindergarten, and spend most of their time hangout at Greg’s place watching movies with his dad (Nick Offerman). They love the classics of world cinema and become filmmakers in their own right. They take a Criterion-type film, change the name to something stupid, and then make a short film about that silly title. When Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) finds out that a girl in his class, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), has leukemia, she forces him to visit her even though they aren’t really friends. Rachel doesn’t want his pity, but when he tells her that she would be doing him a favor by getting his mom off his back, she relents and lets him hang out with her. They develop a friendship that eventually includes Earl and a request by another friend to make a movie for Rachel before she dies. And then stuff happens and lessons are learned and I fought really hard to stop tears from streaming down my face in the movie theater and I was successful but at what cost to my humanity.
Judgment: Go see it! It’s great. I mean, this is not the movie for everyone, but if you are anyway inclined (or would like to be pleasantly surprised), go. It’s funny and sad and charming and deeply moving.
Cancer Movies: I do not like cancer movies. They are usually full of false sentiment, which is something I cannot bear in a film. For the most part this manages to avoid that and is genuinely moving without visible machinations by the director to control the audience’s emotions.
Friendship: This is not a movie about a tender, doomed romance. It is about the enduring power of friendship, and that rocks.
Greg: Thomas Mann is a good actor and his performance is strong. Greg is the center of the movie and he is a complicated character who manages to charm without be smarmy or overdone. He feels real.
Greg’s Parents: Even kids with good parents can be self-hating. I think it’s normal. It’s nice to see a functional – if a bit weird – family in a film. (Bad parenting in films is a pet peeve of my daughter. I don’t know what that says about me as her mother.)
Rachel: For most of the film Rachel is almost purely defined by her cancer, which makes her a little one-dimensional. However, Olivia Cooke gives her a depth that does not appear in the writing, and there is something that happens at the end that adds greatly to the nuance of her character. I’m satisfied with that.
Earl: So, Earl’s character is the only beef I have with this film, and it has nothing to do with RJ Cyler’s performance. He’s great. No, my issue has to do with his character’s background. Earl is black and that’s good because otherwise this movie would be super white. As it is, it’s just mostly white. (I don’t know why casting agents can’t be all like “Hey this scene looks funny; let’s get a Pakistani guy in here and make it look more like a place where people actually live.”) Earl is also poor, lives in a crappy neighborhood, has an absent father, and a scary brother with an even scarier dog. I’m pretty sure the black experience is more varied than this, but it would be hard to tell it from the movies. There is no reason why Earl could not come from a two-parent middle class family (or any other kind of situation really). He could just be hanging out at Greg’s all the time because the food is good. This is a failure of imagination.
Conclusion: This is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I can’t wait to watch it again in my own home so I can cry like a baby and be laughed at by my family.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon from SIFF 2015.