Heart and Humor: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying GirlJust when you think you’ve seen all the variations on young
love, teenage misfits, and off-kilter relationships, along comes a film that’s
fresh, original and touching. No wonder Me
and Earl and the Dying Girl
earned both the Grand Jury Prize and the
Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Jesse Andrews adapted his
own novel for the screen, which has been brought to life with equal parts
empathy and whimsy by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. (Is it coincidental that
this empathetic film about young people is set in Pittsburgh, which also
inspired Stephen Chbosky’s novel and film Perks
of Being a Wallflower

From the opening first-person narration—illustrated with clay
animation—to a parade of movie parodies made by the protagonist and his
“co-worker” Earl, Me and Earl marches
to its own distinctive drum.

Me and Early and the Dying Girl-1

Thomas Mann plays Greg, the protagonist/narrator who explains
that he has found a way to fit in with all the subcultures at his suburban high
school by maintaining glib, superficial “relationships” with these disparate
groups and individuals. But Greg’s character is only fooling himself, because
he has no real friends except Earl (RJ Cyler), a boy from the wrong side of the
tracks who helps him make clever home movies that they put on a shelf and never
show anyone.

Then Greg’s mother (the always-solid Connie Britton) hears
that a girl in his class named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with
leukemia and insists that Greg hang out with her. He doesn’t want to, and she
doesn’t welcome his forced attention, but as they reluctantly spend time
together a real friendship blossoms. She values his wit and empathy, and he
enjoys her humor and good company, in spite of the pain she’s enduring.

This basic outline is fleshed out with interesting and
offbeat characters, including Greg’s kooky father, a professor who never leaves
the house and wears eccentric outfits (Nick Offerman), a simpatico
schoolteacher (Jon Bernthal) who gives Greg and Earl privacy and encouragement
in his office lair, and Rachel’s mother (Molly Shannon), whose emotions are
right on the surface, liable to overflow at any given moment.

The quirky tone of the film is perfectly supported by its
innovative visuals, including Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography and the music
by Brian Eno and Nico Muhly. Everything is perfectly orchestrated in this poignant
film; nothing seems arbitrary or out of place. That’s a rare achievement for a
team of young filmmakers and all the more reason to celebrate Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

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April 2024