by: Jay Carlson
I saw Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at a very strange time. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film centers on Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior who is trying to blend in anonymously, avoiding deeper relationships as a survival strategy for navigating the social minefield that is teenage life. He even describes his constant companion Earl (RJ Cyler), with whom he makes short film parodies of classic movies, as more of a ‘co-worker’ than a best friend. But when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists he spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) – a girl in his class who has just been diagnosed with cancer – he slowly discovers how worthwhile the true bonds of friendship can be.
The week I was to finally see what everyone had been buzzing about since Sundance we found out that one of my teenage son’s best friends had been diagnosed with Leukemia. There were a lot of parallels between author Jesse Andrews’ story and what I was happening in my own life. The more I thought about it the more I realized this wasn’t something unique to me. People are out there dealing with illness and loss everywhere, all the time. That’s what makes the film is so special. Cancer has touched all of our lives, most likely in a big way, but even if you’re fortunate in some small way.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is that even though the film is about teenagers, it doesn’t pander to them. It avoids falling into all the tropes that a lot of recent young adult films fall victim to. This is a movie about feelings and love and loss that never feels like it picks an easy path. The film deftly handles the heavy material with a grace and touching humor that many young adult films are frankly lacking, instead relying on over the top, ridiculous melodrama.
The film wouldn’t work if not for the fine work of the three young leads, Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler. They all brought an amazing freshness and heart to their respective roles. I had only been aware of Cooke’s previous work on the much better than you’d expect Psycho prequel series, The Bates Motel, but Mann and newcomer Cyler some of the films best scenes as best friends “co-workers.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful supporting cast of veterans including Connie Britton, Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon. The one person who really surprised me was Jon Bernthal as English teacher Mr. McCarthy, who steals each scene he’s in and left me wanting more. Also, keep your eye out for a great Hugh Jackman cameo that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling.
Original novelist Jesse Andrews had the tough task of adapting his own novel for the screen. This might not sound like a difficult task but this can prove very difficult for some writers who are too precious with their source material, making for a film that doesn’t quite feel like an original work. Andrews avoids this totally, never making you feel out of the loop if you haven’t read his novel (Chances are though, you’ll seek it out after seeing the film). Andrews has such a fresh and unique voice that it feels like a disservice to label him a young adult writer. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
This finally brings me to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon who deftly elevates some really tough emotional moments and manages to inject humor and heart into the film throughout. It’s always gratifying to see a filmmaker find his voice and Gomez-Rejon really feels like he has done just that with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
The film opens this weekend in select cities and will continue to expand in the coming weeks. Get out and see it. Even though this is a film is about young adults, it’s not a film for young adults. There’s something in this film for everyone.