"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2014)
Greg (Thomas Mann) has mastered the art of surviving high school. He interacts with each group of students, whether it's the jocks, the stoners, the weirdos or the drama club students, with just the right amount of interaction so that they think he is a part of their group, but really isn't. He never lets anyone else (besides the target groups) see this interaction and avoids big gatherings like the lunch room. That way he doesn't stand out from the crowd but also doesn't appear to be a loner.
The only student that Greg interacts with on a daily basis is Earl (RJ Cyler) who he has known since they were little kids. Greg even keeps Earl at a distance. Instead of calling Earl his friend, he labels him his "coworker." At lunch, they both escape to a teacher's lounge where their favorite teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) lets them watch classic films on his computer as he dispenses vague advice on how to survive life.
The only things that Earl and Greg have in common are timeless foreign films that they watch together and the love of making crappy satirical films on their computers based on classic films with titles such as "Grumpy Cul-de-sacs", "My Dinner with Andre the Giant", "Rosemary Baby Carrots", and "The 400 Bros." Their films are made for their own amusement and not for the consumption of anyone else. If fact, they get quite defensive when someone like Greg's father tries to watch them.
Greg's parents are overly enthusiastic with being involved in Greg's life. Greg's mom (Connie Britton) has made it her mission to get Greg to apply for college, so much so she gives Greg a book of potential colleges that just might weigh 20 pounds. Greg's father (Nick Offerman) is a sociology professor who seems to spend his whole time in a bathrobe at home. Greg's father's mission in life is to consume the world's most bizarre foods and get Greg and Earl to eat them also.
Greg's world is changed when his mother finds out that a classmate of his, a girl named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with Leukemia. After a round of badgering, Greg's mother convinces Greg to call Rachel. When their very awkward phone call ends, Greg's mother makes him go (resistance is futile when it comes to Greg's mom) and actually visits her at her home. There he convinces Rachel that the only way they will both get through the visit is just to get it over with. At first, Rachel doesn't want anything to do with Greg, but his rather strange sense of humor soon warms her to him, and so a friendship is born.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Jesse Andrews have done what is increasingly hard to do nowadays, take a successful book aimed at teens and make it enjoyable for not only the target audience but also adults. This film is an incredibly entertaining to watch. The film uses highly creative stop-motion animation that tends to display Greg's innermost thoughts, and the amusing narration that Greg gives is reflective and gratifying. It's a rare teen coming of age film that can take all the stereotypical aspects of that genre and turn it on its ear. Andrews has written a script (based on his novel) that contains a real insight into how teens act and talk, taking what should be ordinary conversations and creating scenes that are filled with magic.
The film is brilliantly cast. Britton is wonderful as the "every mom," who sees only the good in her son Greg and hopes the best for him. Offerman brings out the most in every scene that he is in; bringing that deadpan style of comedy he does so well to the screen. Molly Shannon is hilarious as the mother of Rachel, someone who seems to be dealing with her daughter's cancer by having an ever-present glass of wine in her possession.
The film works because of the three leads. RJ Cyler is wonderful as the stick to your guns and be candid about everything, Earl. He is given the difficult job of being the straight man to Mann's Greg, something that he fully succeeds in doing. Thomas Mann has a great comedic touch, knowing when to overact a bit as teenagers seem to do while keeping his character real and grounded. His scenes with Cyler are incredibly important to the film, and their time on the screen is a blast to watch. He also works extremely well with Olivia Cooke, because without that attraction and chemistry, the film just wouldn't work as well as it does.
It's Olivia Cooke that makes this film succeed, hitting both the comedic elements and the heartstrings. Her performance is brilliant and touching without getting too mushy or maudlin. We instantly like her right from the start, with her interaction with Mann easy going and more importantly believable. It's a moving performance that is full of heart.
"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is a marvelous film that plays on the stereotypes of the teen dramas that have been so popular lately, taking a film genre and making its own with humor and insight. Like the quirky films that Greg and Earl make, you won't forget this unique movie that packs such an emotional punch. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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