ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
By Gary Murray
Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke
Written by Jesse Andrews
Directed by Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon
Running time 105 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl debuted at the Dallas International Film Festival this year. It was one of the buzz flicks of the fest, a ticket that everyone wanted. The only thing I knew about the movie was that it had more positive energy than just about any film that has ever played in the last ten years at the festival. After it was over, I could understand the hype.
The story is of Greg (Thomas Mann also our narrator) who is a high school senior trying just to make it through the year. He has made a conscious effort never to get too close to any different group but act as if he’s a member of each group. He fawns over the local rap kid, shows ironic distain with the drama geeks and never eats lunch in the cafeteria.
The person Greg hangs around with the most is Earl. They both have a fondness for foreign and cult films. Their lunch hours are spent watching such flicks as A Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy. Their film watching mimics the book 101 Cult Films to see before you Die. To make their obsession even more obtuse, the make parody videos of the movies, sometimes using animation and sometimes using sock puppets. It is the way the two have bonded over the years.
Life changes for Greg when his mom (Connie Brittian) makes the young man go and visit a girl from his school. Her name is Rachel (Olivia Cooke) and she has been diagnosed with blood cancer. Greg does not want to go and see a girl he barely knows and feels as if he is being punished.
He goes to see her and she instantly knows he doesn’t want to be there. She doesn’t want him there and they very soon part ways. A few days later, mom again makes Greg go and visit Rachel. This time he stays a little longer. The slightest bit of a spark of friendship starts between Rachel and Greg. At school one day, Rachel makes Greg do the unthinkable. They eat in the cafeteria. This starts the downfall in the social strata that Greg has built for three years.
But, he cannot truly be mad at Rachel. The more he gets to know her, the more he wants to know her. The other part of his downfall happens when Earl mentions that they make movies. Greg has never shown the films to anyone other than his nosy professor father (Nick Offerman) and he begrudgingly lets Rachel see his cinematic work. She loves his films and it becomes a part of her recovery from chemotherapy. The hot girl Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) convinces Greg to make Rachel a film. This is something he has no idea how to accomplish. But she is a moose and he is a mouse in the forest (see the film). It becomes another teen pressure.
As a teenager, I made films with my friends. We did animations and live action skits, recruiting everyone in the neighborhood as our cast and crew. My best friend from high school was a co-conspirator in making these films and died very young from blood cancer. So in more ways than one, this film hit me in the gut. I felt at times that I was watching a tangent part of my own life. But, I’m sure many kids made films with friends.
The acting from the biggest roles to the smallest are all superb. Young Thomas Mann finds that right balance between childhood anger and teen angst with the role of Greg. He’s a kid who has to accept some very adult situations in a short period of time. There is a steadfast dedication that is endearing as it is heartbreaking. Kudos has to go to RJ Cyler as Earl. He is our rock; the solid individual who always has Greg’s back but still calls him out on his BS. He is the exact friend one needs in their lives; a person who doesn’t back down but never gives up on you.
Molly Shannon plays Rachel’s Mom Denise. It is a small role but it packs a wallop. This is a woman who is lost beyond words and is grasping at anything that will give her an anchor in the storm. There is this heart break in her eyes that speaks volumes. And speaking of volumes, Olivia Cooke delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Rachel. The performance runs the gamut of emotions in the smallest of frames, full of subtleness and charm. We believe every moment she is on the screen and hope she stays on a moment more.
The film is perfectly directed by Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon by a script by Jesse Andrews. They have crafted a story that will live in the hearts of movie patrons for a long time after they have left the theater. The best of film carries emotional weight and Me & Earl and the Dying Girl caries the weight of the ages. The movie is an instant classic and one that will be studied in film school for decades.
Simply put, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the best film of 2015 so far and is easily in my top ten of the year. It is a film that should not be missed. It the most honest film about teens since the heyday of John Hughes. By the time the last image flickered, there was not a dry eye in the house. But at the same time, the idea behind the film was that there is hope and that we can learn from each life, no matter the length. It is the most heartfelt experience of the year.