Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, review

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.

mann and cyler in me and earl and the dying girl

mann and cyler in me and earl and the dying girl

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.

a television round up (of sorts)

Television dramas – of all kinds – are totally rocking my world right about now. I’m a broke ass student which means cinema trips are lacking. Who needs the cinema on the regular when you have film worthy T.V. on the small screen? Now, I say ’round up of sorts’ because this is going to be a brief (if you read regularly you’ll know I have no idea what the word brief means) review of three series’ that are all currently airing. It’s extra exciting because said shows couldn’t be further removed from one another which makes for diverse watching and some hella’ interesting reading for you guys too – hopefully. Let the television bashing (or reviewing as most call it) begin.

Nashville, season 3

First up: you don’t need to love country music to enjoy ABC’s smash hit musical drama. Full to the brim with catchy songs and original narratives, Callie Khouri’s stab at the basically unexplored world of American country is one of the best shows on T.V. right now (no, seriously). Nashville‘s ability to stand out as both an up-beat and mellow series, with a healthy mix of both seen in each episode makes it a satisfying watch. Its rare you’ll finish an episode feeling like you need a glass – or two – of wine to cheer your sorry self up.

Unlike most television series’ that revolve around a musical premise, Nashville escapes the cliches that often lead to many a cheesy scenario – ahem Glee. It has sass, and series three – currently on it’s mighty eighteenth episode – continues to promote the talent of cast members Connie Britton, Sam Palladio, Oliver Hudson and a host more. Britton has been a stellar force in previous cult shows such as Fright Night Lights and season one of American Horror Story and to see her embody a Faith Hill-esque character – and give an acting master class in the process – is always a treat.

A unique and refreshing drama which never takes itself too serious but successfully manages to lift the lid on the previously un-seen world of country music.

Game of Thrones, season 5

It’s back. Unfortunately for HBO, it was back one day early and four episodes too soon. I felt sorry for them, for they are producers of some of the best small screen fare, and for that we must applaud. When someone swiftly reminded me the millions (probably billions lets be honest) of dollars they rake in each year, I felt less sorry and quickly ran home to watch all four episodes. Plus, Game of Thrones was the most pirated television series of 2014 so I’m not the only one. What followed was some face-clutching, deep in-depth plot analysis and then the thought of oh yeah…another four weeks to wait now’ (common sense has never been my strong suit).

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

Without giving too much away – as not everyone has rushed to download – so far, so good. With episodes all at an hour long (or just short of), fans are able to delve straight back into the lives of the Lannister’s and co’ as they await the winter Jon Snow keeps reminding us is coming. Slow and steady seems to be the general theme, while we wait for the warring houses to finally come to a head. Oh, and Sansa is suddenly so bad ass. Season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones is the first to feature episodes without a little help from source writer George R. R. Martin, as he pens his latest novel as part of A Song of Fire and Ice.

We waited a year for this fantasy drama to return, and now we have to wait as the remaining six episodes air. Its worth it.

Bates Motel, season 3

Bates Motel began as a contemporary homage to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved – and watched – films, Psycho. The classic film set the tone, and genre, for horror’s to come and has been referenced in popular culture many times. A&E brought the 1950’s to twenty-first century America and intelligently placed the Bates family in a realm of their own within their old-school motel, juxtaposing Vera Farmiga’s Norma and Freddie Highmore’s Norman against the locals of new home White Pine Bay.

The enigma and interest that came with the first two seasons of Bates Motel, as well as the sub-plot of a cannabis-related economy that engulfs the town, has been left behind. What dominates now are moody conversations and under-thought story-lines. Don’t get me wrong, Highmore in a woman’s dressing gown embodying the spirit of his mother and making waffles is certainly a sight to see – and for the first time we were able to see the real talent he possesses as an adult actor – but, beyond the presentation of great acting, there isn’t much else being explored.

Vera Farmiga as Norma has taken hold in season 3. With a back-story coming into play that has been building bit by bit since series one, Farmiga dominates the screen and the show is less about Norman‘s psychotic tendencies and more about his mother’s tragic past. The tables have turned and we now find ourselves defending her, despite her wrongdoings.

It will be interesting to see if A&E continue their foray into the lives of the Bates family pre-Psycho following the end of season three.

Nashville season three – a return to form

We are now seven episodes in to season three of the country-music based drama Nashville, and damn is it getting good. The cliches of soap dramas have been dropped, and some fantastic songs mixed with great in-depth character stories have been brought back to make this season as good as the first. Nearing its halfway point, its an exciting thought that there are still so many more episodes to come, and this is down to both the excellent cast (Connie Britton, Charles Eston, Hayden Panettiere and more), and the continuing story-lines of those characters we have grown to love so much. Nashville, being a musical show certainly wont be everyone’s cup of tea – and trust me, when I heard the premise I was certainly skeptical. Despite this, the makers have a powerful prowess, and have managed (to a certain extent) to make this drama series a show for most, containing relatable narratives and a slice of the glitz-and-glamour lifestyle of the music industry, that everyone is interested in seeing.

connie britton as rayna james in nashville

connie britton as rayna james in nashville

In my opinion, the power and success television dramas continue to have, is based on three things; poignant moments, cinematic value and its ability to be unique. While Nashville doesn’t present itself as as cinematic as say Boardwalk Empire (a show of complete difference, but bare with me for arguments sake) or as unique as AHS or True Blood (at its beginning), it manages to connect with the audience with narrative spins now and again that remind you of the sheer brilliance of T.V. Some of the best spins from this show (and ones you have to check out, either through YouTube or, even go and grab that boxset!) include Juliette‘s (Panettiere) debut of Don’t Put Dirt on my Grave Just YetDecon‘s discovery that he’s a father, and one of my favourites – Gunner singing a song of heartache, after the death of his brother, where he simply says ‘This song is about the biggest heartbreak I’ve ever had.’ (and man do you feel his sadness). Season three is yet to give us a moment that is as strong as these, but its still up there as a show of great entertainment value.

While Nashville may not be your go-to programme when you’re in need for something deep and meaningful, it serves its purpose as a brilliantly entertaining ride, filled with great country music (trust me, even if you don’t like this genre of music, you’ll find yourself tapping your feet), and even better characters. The introduction of new cast members as people you both love and hate means the show keeps us on our toes through out, and lastly, but most importantly, its just fun. And the light relief of fun, and accesible T.V. is certainly needed now and again.

Nashville season 3 – the story so far

This article contains spoilers!

If, like me, you’re already a fan of Nashville then you’ll be in the same mind in thinking that season two seriously fell flat. Season three is now on its third episode, and certainly looking more promising. The soap-style cliches, which all but ruined season two have been put aside and the humor has been brought back to life. Love triangles and songs of heartbreak still remain the best parts of the show, and its good to see the likes Jeff Fordam (head of Edgehill) loosing his power over those beloved characters. Whats happened so far? Well, the bomb dropped when it came out that Juliette has a bun in the oven (aka pregnant), Rayna chose Luke, for now (now known as Ruke, or Layna), and Scarlett and Gunner’s relationship looks to be stepping up a notch once again. The best part of all this continues to be the array of country music written especially for the show, and the actors who sing those songs so well. Connie Britton, as Rayna, Hayden Panettiere as Juliette and Charles Esten as Deacon remain firm favorites and Esten’s ability to make you both resent and love Deacon is certainly impressive.

The problem I, and many others have had in the past with this show, which always starts so strong but tends to fall at the last hurdle is the overwhelming number of episodes per season. Twenty two episodes is a hell of a lot, and the feeling of story-lines being dragged on too long as well as  finding yourself disliking characters is the price to be paid. However, if the originality of season one (and the early days of season two), can be brought back, season three will be a triumphant return to country form.  And you might just find yourself singing along, and downloading those records.