“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” begins its theatrical run in Houston today at the Sundance, Edwards Grand Palace, and Cinemark at Market Street movie theaters.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a loner in high school who has played it safe his entire school life. He maintains a casual relationship with every type of clique in a way to keep the peace with everyone, never make any sort of commitment, and completely blend in. Greg wants nothing more than to be invisible and he is.
His only friend, who is more of a co-worker, is named Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg and Earl have known each other most of their lives. Greg’s Dad (Nick Offerman) introduced the two boys to foreign, classic, and lesser known cinema. Ever since they’ve collaborated on making parodies of famous films and still do to this day.
A girl at school named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia and Greg’s Mom (Connie Britton) forces him to hang out with her. What begins as a chore blossoms into one of the most rewarding friendships anyone could ever have.
Seeing Thomas Mann in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” shortly after watching “Barely Lethal” is thought-provoking. Mann tends to play characters that rely on humor to portray their emotions. In “Lethal,” Mann’s character Roger Marcus is a standup guy who is also an overlooked nerd in high school that is basically an encyclopedia of horrible puns. In “Dying Girl,” Mann is much more jaded, full of self-loathing, and protective of his own image as Greg. Greg’s humor is mostly very random and occasionally portrayed by stop-motion animation like the ongoing moose stomping on the chipmunk’s head gag.
The dramatic comedy seems to be trying so hard to be a Wes Anderson film. It’s as if it’s cramming your face into its independent status at all times. The wandering camera tries perspectives and techniques that don’t always work as it tilts through halls, rotates around rooms, circles around Rachel’s books, and embraces long one-take sequences in Greg’s home as he avoids his mother. It’s certainly alluring in its own right, but feels a bit like overkill at times.
The humor in the film also misses its mark more often than not. Greg’s humor will mostly go under-appreciated since he tends to say things too fast or makes obscure references that no one will get until after the fact. His highlights are the regretful polar bear, his recommendations of going into a subhuman state or death when confronted by an annoying person and the weird conversation inside his head with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Greg’s Dad has this unhealthy fascination with peculiar foods that is also fantastic.
Everything seems to circle back around once Greg and Rachel begin to get close to one another. There’s a scene involving Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke where they discuss Rachel’s treatment that is just completely genuine and expertly performed. The film feels like it shifts from trying to be an indie comedy to being a full-blown sentiment inducing drama without much of a warning and it’s all the more enjoyable because of it.
Even though the film’s humor swings for the fences yet strikes out there’s this relatable factor found in Greg’s self-hatred and disbelief in himself. Critics and film lovers will cling for the love for cinema found within the film and your high school experiences are likely to bubble up witnessing the harshness of high school Greg finds himself dealing with on a daily basis. This is a film for the overlooked, the unpopular, the sick, and the awkward. This is like having that dream where you’re back in school and realizing you’re naked while taking that test you forgot to study for. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” capitalizes on that uncomfortable sensation and molds it into a beautiful and caring statement about life.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is an emotional, effective, and well written drama with a strong message, incredible writing, and powerful performances. The indie darling directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has the charm of “Be Kind Rewind,” the awkwardness of “Lars and the Real Girl,” and the atmosphere of “Rushmore.”