BY ROGER THOMAS
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not a film for everyone.
I know people who would say it is too artsy, tries too hard to jerk the heartstrings, ends wrong or a whole host of other issues. I can sum the film up simply with three little words: bold, brilliant and beautiful.
There are a lot of reasons why I loved the film. First, someone who loves film made it. There are more references to other movies in this 105-minute film than almost any I have ever seen. Greg (“Me” in the movie) and Earl have been remaking their favorite films since they were children. Now as high school seniors, they have a large collection of amateur remakes of classic films and these are displayed throughout the film, often offering humor in the midst of a story about cancer.
Another great strength of the film is the cast. The three leads – Thomas Mann (he plays Me of the title, who happens to be named Greg), RJ Cyler (Earl) and Olivia Cooke (the Dying Girl, who is named Rachel) – all give phenomenal performances. Beyond these three, Nick Offerman and Connie Britton as Greg’s parents and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mother all deliver amazing supporting roles.
Then there is the story. Teenage cancer. Awkward friendship. The search to discover who you want to be and the pressures of high school to be someone else. Parents who want to understand, but fail. Anger, regret, joy, creativity, ignorance, selfishness and selflessness. And lots of quirky moments that leave one scratching their head until suddenly, it all makes sense. I did not particularly like every moment of this film, but I loved it as a whole work.
In fact, the only criticism of the film at all was that at the beginning, it took me a while to adapt to the rhythm of the movie. Once I was in sync, I liked it more and more.
I begin with three little words: bold, brilliant and beautiful. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon boldly places bits and pieces of this film that immediately cause one to question why. At least that was my experience. The more times I saw that “claymation” moose, the more I liked what it was depicting. One of the many “bold” choices in a film filled with them.
The film is brilliant for the artistic choices, but also for the story. There are so many moments of clarity in this script, so many times the words spoken, the actions taken, ring so true and yet equally the script offers surprises and unique affirmations of the journey of life.
Finally, the film is simply beautiful. When Greg finally displays his most recent creative achievement, it is less and more in a way that only art can be. Or perhaps I expected more and found less to be tremendously satisfying and authentic.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is one of my favorite films of 2015. You probably have already guessed that. If your taste lean towards traditional narrative styles and simple concise plots (insert any Nicholas Sparks film here as an example), then “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is probably not for you.
However, if you want something that deviates from the mainstream, but ultimately satisfies, this is the film for you.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.