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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
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by Jay Seaver

"Funniest movie about a teenager with cancer that you'll see."
5 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2015: There are plenty of reasons to be wary of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"; from the start, it's got a seeming tendency to be glib and self-aware in a way that doesn't always do it many favors. That's why it must eventually be relentless in making those properties work for it, and while I don't really see enough teen-oriented movies that I can conclusively say that this is one of the best in recent memory, it's both impressively well-intentioned and entertaining, and not a whole lot of movies for any demographic manage both at once.

"Me", in this case, refers to Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), just starting his senior year of high school, where he had made a concerted effort to stay on speaking terms with all groups but not part of any; he even refers to his best friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) as his "colleague" (they shoot silly sort films together). Now, though, his mother (Connie Britton) has told him that Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a girl in his class he hadn't spoken to in years, has cancer, and he's to go spend some time with her. He's none too enthusiastic, but she turns out to be nice, and actually kind of fun when they are able to get their minds off this horrible thing hanging over her.

We see that quickly - the first scene with just Greg and Rachel is one of the film's best. It starts out as this really miserable, uncomfortable thing, two people stuck in a situation that is obviously uncomfortable, but also kind of insulting to them, and in a way the fact that they're both kind of annoyed with being thrown together is what lets them get to the point where they're demonstrating the same sort of sense of humor and throwing their awkward jokes back at each other. It takes very little time to see Rachel as more than a plot device and Greg as more than the too-clever creation of an adult writer.

In fact, for all that writer Jesse Andrews (who penned both the screenplay and the novel that it was based upon) hangs some superficially adult traits on Greg toward the start in both his calculated way of remaining an outsider and fondness for art-house movies, he also does an exceptional job of making his voice that of an authentic teen. Greg's jokes tend to be pretty bad, for instance, even when he and Earl are taking inspiration from cinematic classics. His narration, often something of a weak link in this sort of movie, is actually just right: superficially self-referential snark, but ultimately not doing a very good job of covering up the fact that he is a fairly raw nerve who is not nearly so good at insulating himself as he thinks.

One of the funniest ways this comes out is with quick cuts to animated bits illustrating just how another sort of girl can crush the likes of Greg without even noticing she's doing it, and it's far from the only moment like that. This is a very, very funny movie, filled with characters who manage to toss off good bits without seeming to try too hard, good lines, and better sight gags. The film spoofs are more entertaining than they might have been as well, in large part because Andrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon do approach them as things kids would make, halfway between juvenile and clever, and they come out as dumb jokes without seeming like anyone is being looked down upon.

Best of all, Thomas Mann handles all that like a pro, playing into how the movie is pitched sort of larger than life, though not making Greg overly manic while doing so. He doesn't shy away from the moments where Greg is not himself at his best, either, giving the most complete performance of the cast. Olivia Cooke is impressive as well, making Rachel the right convocation of impressive and muted for each moment, always able to put the audience in the mind of a kid for whom the world naturally seems wide-open until a moment comes to remind them that it may not be, especially forward the end when she seems more and more drained. Ronald Cyler II makes a nice counter-balance, playing Earl as having no time for Greg's middle-class nonsense despite sharing hobbies. As is becoming traditional in this sort of independent coming-of-age film, the kids are boosted by quality character actors in the adult parts, notable Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal, and Molly Shannon.

Gomez-Rejon oversees a few nifty sequences that tale flights of fancy right into the kids' minds as well, but though they might briefly take center stage, they never feel like they are becoming the reason for the film. It works - and does so much better than expected - because these kids feel very genuine as they both laugh and cry in the face of death.

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originally posted: 05/24/15 12:10:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.

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  12-Jun-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Oct-2015


  DVD: 06-Oct-2015

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