Friday, June 19, 2015

'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl' Tugs At Hearts

(l-r) R.J. Cyler and Thomas Mann

By Darlene Donloe

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, in theaters nationwide July 1, is a quirky comedy/drama about an awkward high school senior whose mom forces him to spend time with Rachel, a girl in his class at school, whom he hasn’t spoken to since kindergarten. The reason why is because she was recently diagnosed with cancer.

One of the best films of the year, this movie straddles the line with hilarity and complete sadness. And yet it works.  Don’t forget to bring some tissue. This film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, makes you feel – and sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable.

The cast is exceptional, fueled by Thomas Mann (Greg), R.J. Cyler (Earl) and Olivia Cook (Rachel), who play Me, Earl and the Dying Girl respectively.  The film, based on the book by Jesse Andrews, also stars Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal and Connie Britton.

While on the surface it seems like a lightweight offering, in reality, this film is well-balanced, poignant, touching and emotional.
It’s also quite affecting and entertaining. 

Greg, who is just trying to make it through life in one-piece, is incredibly awkward. He’s not cool by any stretch of the imagination. He’s also not savvy when it comes to relationships. In fact, he calls his best friend, Earl, with whom he makes short film parodies of classic movies, his ‘co-worker.’  Some of the hilarious titles of the parodies include My Dinner with Andre the Giant and A Sockwork Orange.

Greg has a lot on his plate.  Not only is some of his free time now spent with a girl he hardly knows, he’s also in high school as well as applying for college – all of which lessens the time he has for his childhood friend Earl.
There are several golden nuggets in this film. Connie Britton is effective as Greg’s mom. Nick Offerman is brilliant as Greg’s dad.  Molly Shannon is one sandwich short of a picnic as Rachel’s mom.

(l-r) Olivia Cook, Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler

The story is emotional, but it’s not melodramatic or maudlin.

Craftily shot and sensitively acted, you can’t help but become invested emotionally with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It’s smart, unique and compassionate.

Watching Greg go from an uncaring nerd to a real friend who is both caring, protective and concerned is part of what makes the film work. Sometimes you just don’t see the transition happening.

Each character is fully developed with lively personalities.  Greg is just the right amount of dorky, but eventually is a kid with a heart of gold. Through his experiences with Rachel, Greg learns the true meaning of friendship.

R.J. Cyler nearly steals this film.  His ho-hum attitude, but straight-forward candidness is just what Greg and Earl’s relationship needs. Without saying much Earl’s character says so much. He also has gentle moments with both Greg and Rachel that are exceptional. He also has some brilliant comedic moments.  Olivia Cook effectively plays Rachel as nonchalant, angry, frustrated, fatigued and eventually resolved.  Her emotions aren’t over the top. In fact, the way she plays a young girl going through this struggle is subtle, but dramatic.

The script allows all involved to stretch their range. It’s a pleasure to watch this entire cast in action.  

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, this film was a joyous surprise.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements). Running time: 1 hr. 44 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah), E (excellent), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl gets an E (excellent). 

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