When I first saw the trailer for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…I thought, “Great…another cloying oh-so-insightful movie about teen angst…with cancer!” But then the reviews started coming in and I heard how it was an audience favorite at Sundance, and I thought, “Hmmm, okay, maybe this will be more like The Perks of Being a Wallflower which also had a cliché-ridden trailer but turned out to be a surprisingly good movie.” Both films take place in Pittsburgh oddly enough (an unlikely city that plays nicely on film) and both are based on well-regarded young adult novels.
Now having seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I’m here to report it’s actually more like The Savages, you know, that under-appreciated gem of a character drama starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as estranged siblings dealing with their father’s descent into dementia (and eventual death). Both films are about the living learning how to live while watching the dying die.
And it’s okay to spend half of my review talking about and comparing Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to other films because it’s a film for film buffs. The titular Me/Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) are friends from opposite sides of the track who have been “co-workers” since kindergarten and make their own ramshackle homages to the classic films or international cinema Greg’s sociology professor dad (Nick Offerman) has raised them on. Herzog gets a lot of play here, and their punny titles are great fun…my favorites being A Sockwork Orange, The 400 Bros, Brew Velvet and the 2:48 PM Cowboy (click here for a complete list of all of their parodies). When Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) pressures him to hang-out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) after she is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg and Earl find an audience for their films and eventually set out to make one for her at the behest of the school’s nice pretty girl Madison (Katherine C. Hughes).
There’s plenty of teen angst and coming-of-age clichés (accidentally getting high! prom! college applications!), with the self-deprecating voice-over being one of the genre’s most overused, but screenwriter Jesse Andrews (working from his novel) and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon never let the film go too far down those well-worn tracks without throwing something clever our way or reminding us of the gravity of Rachel’s situation.
The young leads do fine, fine jobs as do their comedy-bred elder supporting players (Molly Shannon is there as the sweet wine-swilling single-mother to the dying girl). Nice framing, pacing, an eclectic music score that blends themes from classic films, original material and indie music all make for a pleasant and endearing production. It might sound clichéd…but you’ll laugh…you might cry. But most of all you’ll relate and connect. And isn’t that what all the best films do?
Written by David H. Schleicher