Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Greg, who’s convinced he has pasty skin and a chipmunk face, is a self-loathing high school senior whose strategy for surviving until graduation is to be superficially friendly to all while avoiding anything that smacks of intimacy. That is, until he begins spending time—under duress from his mom (“the LeBron James of nagging”)—with Rachel, the dying girl of the title.
Greg, who has been raised by two intellectual quirksters, played beautifully by Connie Britton and Nick Offerman, is a bright kid but an emotional void who makes short films with his lifelong friend, Earl, a black dude from a rough neighborhood. Greg’s sharp mind shows up in his movies and in his offbeat sense of humor, but not in his grades or his ambition. He’s just trying to get through life with the least amount of wear and tear possible. His relationship with Rachel, which never becomes a “Fault in Our Stars” or “Love Story” romance, is both his undoing and his healing. This is a story about how three emotionally disconnected kids become emotionally connected despite themselves.
Greg, played by Thomas Mann in a star-making performance, is a new kind of unreliable narrator, due to being (accidentally) high, dishonest, or disconnected from his own emotions, and the film gives him a unique depth we haven’t seen for a long time in a teen character. Earl’s external confidence belies the loss and hardship he’ll probably never talk about. Rachel, too, says very little but communicates a lot. We learn early in the story that when her father left the family, she cut up all of his books with scissors. Now, as she is dying of cancer, scissors adorn the walls of her bedroom, and in one of the best moments of the movie, we find she has cut up another book as a way to express her emotions, but this time in a much more beautiful way. It’s this kind of subtle depth that makes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl something special and makes you understand why it won Sundance’s Audience award and Grand Jury Prize.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]“He has a tremendous visual style without being too flashy or intrusive.”[/mks_pullquote]Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon cut his teeth as a second unit director for some of the best filmmakers in the industry (Martin Scorsese, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nora Ephron). He was the second unit director for Best Picture winner, Argo, supporting Ben Affleck. His experience behind the camera shows. He has a tremendous visual style without being too flashy or intrusive. He also manages to coax some tremendous performances out his cast, including the three relatively new leads. These elements all come together—the visuals and the performances—especially in one scene set in a hospital room that is as good a scene as I have experienced in cinema in the past year. It’s spellbinding and sad and transporting, all at once.
The first quarter of the film is hysterically funny and remarkably inventive. Even when the film settles into a somewhat more conventional narrative, it is still captivating and wholly original. There is a slight unevenness in tone as the film moves forward, but by the end, you’re hooked anyway. This will undoubtedly be one of the best films of the summer and one you should experience with your own family or loved ones.