Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015 Sundance Review)

13 Apr

On paper, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl seems like your typical teenage indie rom com. Quirky middle-class white filmmaker meets girl with cancer and they have all sorts of zany adventures with a black kid providing the film’s comic relief. Throw in a few songs from Radiohead, some stop-motion animated title sequences, and angsty talk about existentialism and you have the perfect embodiment of what a “sundance movie” should be…. on paper anyway. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon seems to know this formula well however, and gives us enough voice and spontaneity to keep the twee, offbeat romance subgenre seem fresh again.

Based on the novel by the same name, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is told to us in chapters by Greg (Thomas Mann), our self-aware high school protagonist who narrates everything on-screen (“This is the part where I try drugs for the first time”) before we see it, Brechtian-style.  Greg spends his days recreating/parodying scenes from his favorite films with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler). Some of their masterworks include “A Sockwork Orange”, “Senior Citizen Cane”, and “Don’t Look Now Because A Creepy Ass Dwarf Is About To Kill You Damn” (Seriously though – when was the last time you met a high schooler who had even heard of Nicholas Roeg?).  Things get complicated when Greg’s classmate and neighbor Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia, and the two form a tightly-knit friendship. Yep, you know exactly where this is going.  Supporting parental roles are provided by Nick Offerman, who plays a cool-dad version of himself, and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s carefree and flirtatious mom.

The film moves along at a brisk pace and is clever enough to avoid getting weighed down in it’s many pop culture references. Though it is essentially just another version of Garden State for the younger siblings of kids who actually remember how cool Garden State was, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is a playful and entertaining film that actually was more emotionally poignant that I expected.

Bottom Line: Winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film is certain to be a huge crowd-pleaser, and deserves all the critical praise it will surely get from those who thought Juno was the best film of 2007.

Rating 7/10 

Film Recipe: Garden State (2005) + 50/50 (2011) + Me, You, And Everyone We Know (2005) + The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012) + Criterion collecting snobs


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