The first and only word that came to my mind when the credits of the latest indie dramady “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” began rolling was “wow.” Seriously, wow: what a movie. This film took Sundance by storm this past January, grabbing both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a Dramatic film. This is the third year in a row where a film has taken home both of these awards at the festival, with “Fruitvale Station” and Oscar winner “Whiplash” being the previous recipients. The film, based off of screenwriter Jesse Andrews’ novel of the same name, tells the story of Greg Gaines. Greg’s goal for his senior year is to blend in with the crowd and be as anonymous as humanly possible. He has one friend in the form of Earl who he shoots short parodies of classic films with, but he doesn’t classify him as a “friend,” but rather a “business partner.” Greg’s life suddenly takes a turn into the unknown when his mom forces him to spend time with Rachel, an acquaintance of Greg’s whom he hasn’t spoken to since Kindergarten, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to compare the cancer story this has to last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” Not to mention, the trailer doesn’t do the film any favors in looking pretty different than that. This isn’t a love story about a boy and a girl falling in love thanks to an illness that will take one or both of them away. Greg even says this himself via narration. Rather, this is a story of survival, whether it’s high school, leukemia, or anything in between. It’s in this story where the film really strives past cliches and becomes something, unique, witty, and surprisingly realistic. Personally speaking, I was hooked into this from the first second in, and it held me all the way until its poignant and emotional end.
Thomas Mann is no stranger to the silver screen, having been in films such as the mediocre “Project X” and the overlooked “Beautiful Creatures.” Playing Greg, Mann manages to make this character into his own and, in turn, delivers a funny, relatable, and impressively deep performance that really helps to hold the film’s quirkiness together. Olivia Cooke sports a flawless American accent playing Rachel, “the Dying Girl.” Not to mention, she is also the light that keeps this film shining, in my opinion. In every scene she’s in, Cooke has this radiant glow of energy piercing off of her, as well as this adorable charm to her that is really hard to resist. It’s this adorable quality that really brought the emotional and heartbreaking elements of the film home for me, as well as solidifying that it wasn’t just any “teen cancer drama” movie. As great as these two are, and as great as the supporting cast (including the likes of comedian Nick Offerman, “The Walking Dead’s” Jon Bernthal, and SNL alum Molly Shannon) is, none of them compare to how sidesplittingly hysterical and absolutely incredible RJ Cyler’s performance as Earl is.
If you haven’t heard of Cyler before, you’re not alone: this is his first time acting in a movie. Taking that into account, his comedic timing and his delivery of lines as Earl is absolutely incredible. What makes Cyler so great, aside from delivering during some incredibly powerful moments of drama, is that he makes some black stereotypes, one particularly talking about two certain parts on the female body, extremely funny. Even though he is considered to be a supporting character compared to Mann’s Greg and Cooke’s Rachel, Earl is a fully fleshed out person who has a great story arc that compliments everything else going on in the film. Hopefully we’ll be able to see more of him in the future, because he’s clearly proven himself worthy with this film.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has only directed one other film before this, and that was in the form of 2014’s little-seen remake of the horror film “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” Talk about a 180 degree flip from one film to another. This man delivers on directing some of the best shot and most well executed scenes I’ve seen all year. It’s clear from the film that Rejon was heavily inspired by Wes Anderson as the style of this film is very quirky, offbeat, and often extremely funny. That can also be attributed to Jesse Andrews’ expertly written screenplay, which knows how to be downright hilarious and extremely heartfelt in the best ways. Seriously, this film has both some of the funniest and some of the most powerful moments of 2015 thus far. I can’t imagine really anyone not being emotionally invested with these characters and the situations they get in to. Not to mention, this film is FILLED with movie references that cinephiles will really swoon over. This is the type of film that I believe can and will be loved by just about everyone who goes to see it.
“Me and Earl” is a film with soul and passion and love behind it, which is easy to tell within the first five minutes of it. Every character has their purpose to the story fulfilled, and throughout the 105 minute duration of the film we get to know, love, care for, and empathize with teenagers who are dealing with the pressures of education, the future, and friendship along with the fact that one of them is slowly dying from cancer. Even through all of their drama, there is light shined upon them in the form of absurdly hilarious scenarios and some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve heard in 2015. It’s a very offbeat movie, but if you can get take a chance with “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” then I guarantee you won’t regret seeing it. As someone who loved “The Fault in Our Stars,” this is infinitely better than that, and as a whole is truly one of the best films you will see all summer, maybe even all year. There’s a reason why this movie won the top prizes at Sundance, and that’s because, for lack of a better term, it’s freaking amazing!