IFFBoston 2015 Review: ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, and RJ Cyler
Plot: An awkward high schooler and a gravely sick girl strike up a surprising friendship.
Quirky coming of age comedies are a dime a dozen. It probably has something to do with the old adage, “write what you know,” and most young filmmakers know what it’s like to be the young quirky hero of their own story. Just like romantic comedies and slasher movies, these movies are the kind of easy paint-by-number stories that anyone can do and can be made to look good to just about any audience. The thing about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is it rises about the phoned in siblings by doing what last year’s rom-com Obvious Child did: remember to be good.
I know that is kind of a cop out criticism (“just be good”), but it is sort of hard to explain. By some miraculous invisible hand, the movie wades over some well-travelled territory yet seems as affecting as the first time. It helps when you have a pretty kickass cast. Our narrator, Greg (played by Thomas Mann), is a nomad among the high school cliques. His school is ruled by these factions of super specific teen comedy archetypes that go well beyond that of the 5 Breakfast Club members. He has made a science out of having just aquaintances, aside form Earl (RJ Cyler, his “co-worker” who he makes parodies with of their favorite art films). Mann energizes the quirky teen hero by making him legitamately, not needlessly, quirky. His constant sarcasm is very clearly a shield for some deep seated social insecurity. His gabbiness pairs nicely with Cyler’s dry-humored man of few words, Earl.
Greg’s ability to go unnoticed among his social circles is tested when his mother forces him to spend time with a classmate who was diagnosed with cancer. Rachel, the titular dying girl, is played by Olivia Cooke, who finally finds a great outlet for her incredible screen presence that is wasted on “Bate’s Motel.” Just like Mann, she is hiding her own insecurities by a sense of humor that could damn near deflect bullets. As she walks in and out of awkward conversations about the future and her illness with Greg, she swings back to tension killing.
Maybe the greatest weapon in director Gomez-Rejon’s aresneal is cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. This isn’t exactly a genre where you would expect top see some interesting tracking shots and unqiue angles, but it has those nonetheless. And it is better for it. Remember when I said this movie just remebers to be good. This aspect of it is a good example of this. Gomez-Rejon doesn’t just point and shoot for the sake of putting something on film; he actually treats it like a cinema.
Honestly, the only thing I could have done with less of was Greg’s constant narrations reminding us that this isn’t the kind of movie where Greg and Rachel fall in love. The chemistry was great but never felt more than platonic. The movie trying to remind us of this is simply trying too hard to be quirky.