Eccentric mainstream cinema is a rarity, for kooky film making generally attracts a smaller audience. Every now and again we are presented with a movie that successfully executes quirky performances and a somewhat out-there narrative, that somehow doesn’t alienate the general viewing public. Think Juno and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is definitely more Juno kooky then that of Birdman, or any Wes Anderson feature, but it’s unique enough, and compelling enough, to stand on firm ground as its own success story. Brimming with stand-out performances, and with an enjoyable combination of comedy and heart-felt emotion, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has created something spectacularly special with this adaptation of the 2012 novel by Jesse Andrews.
Rejon’s film follows Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke), and Earl (Ronald Cyler) as they embark on a new-found friendship following Rachel‘s cancer diagnosis. Don’t be put off by the heavy subject-matter, and it’s easy to imagine what you must be thinking; “Not another The Fault in Our Stars?”– and, no, this is not another weepy teen drama about terminal illness and epic romance. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of romance in sight, and while at times that can edge towards disappointing, it’s actually rather refreshing. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is genuinely a story of friendship, and how something as terrifying and unfair as cancer can bring about new and unexpected relationships. Supporting the three leads are a host of well-respected actors, all of whom have proved their acting abilities time and again. These include the wonderful Connie Britton, Kings of Summer actor Nick Offerman, and The Walking Dead and Fury actor Jon Bernthal. The three mature faces within the cast are perhaps not given enough screen-time, but when present, they add an extra layer of acting prowess, and successfully support the young talent who drive the narrative forward.
While Mann, Cooke, and Cyler are currently in the midst of making a name for themselves within the Hollywood scene, together, they come across as young thespians who are entirely aware of their individual abilities, and how best to execute these in Rejon’s feature. Cyler is the stand-out, despite not being afforded enough dialogue – as Earl, Cyler embodies confidence and wit, and he becomes a firm favourite as the story of these high-school seniors unfolds. Cooke as the ‘Dying Girl’ of the title never overacts in her role as a 17 year old who is facing terminal illness, and the understated performance we see from her should invigorate actresses who will take on similar characters to take the same road. Too many times audiences have seen hammed-up, over-the-top facades of people on the brink of death, while here Cooke and Rejon allow the subtleties of Rachel‘s change in mood and personality to create an effect on their viewers – something which deserves to be applauded.
What is truly fantastic about this film adaptation – which was penned by original novelist Andrews – is the love of bizarre cinema that hovers amongst the story at all times. From visits to zany art-house video stores, to the recreation of well-known movies into titles such as ‘A Sockwork Orange’, Andrews and Rejon are two collaborators who happily pass on their love of cinema within this film. In a way, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a feature that encompasses lots of different short films – if the audience are only able to see fragments of each of these. This isn’t just a tale of death and the sadness that inevitably comes along with that, but the strange and memorable moments of life, as well as the pressures of contemporary society on adolescent teens. It’s all done so well, so originally, and the imagery and visuals of the feature are some of the best we’ve seen this year. From cardboard cut outs of the Pittsburgh setting, and montages of iPhone stop-motion animation, to the final unveiling of Greg and Earl‘s film for Rachel, each scene has been so thoughtfully attended to, and that in itself creates such a delicate feature.
It’s not a word that can be used often when describing contemporary cinema – particularly of late – but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a beautiful movie, that is a genuine pleasure to witness unfold. Quietly moving, intelligently scripted, laugh-out-loud funny, full of bohemian performances, and winner of the coveted Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this isn’t to be missed.