ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)
Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Katherine C. Hughes, Jon Bernthal, Masam Holden, Matt Bennett, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Chelsea T. Zhang, Gavin Dietz and Edward DeBruce III.
Screenplay by Jesse Andrews.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Young Adult novels are sort of like young adults themselves: highly emotional, troubled, romantic, self-obsessed, fixated on sex and status, and a little bit overly maudlin. They are also profoundly, almost morbidly, fascinated with death.
This film version of Jesse Andrews’ YA novel (Andrews also wrote the screenplay) is a mostly enjoyable (if a bit uneven) look at an quirky friendship that is cemented as one of the friends is facing possible death.
The Me in the title is Greg (Thomas Mann). Greg is a smart but slightly lazy student. He has created an unique plan to survive high school life: stay friendly but distant with all of the cliques on campus, but join none of them. Therefore he may never be well-known, but he will at least be vaguely well-regarded. And if he is ever cornered into an actual connection, he tried to pretend he is reverting to a sub-human state.
Earl (RJ Cyler) is the closest thing he has to a friend – actually he is a friend but neither of them exactly admit it – another vaguely anti-social kid who he has known from the neighborhood (though Earl lives on the wrong side of the tracks) since he was five. They are bonded by a precocious love of foreign art films.
In fact they have taken to making amateur film parodies of these movies with MAD magazine-worthy titles and atrocious production values. While it’s a charming conceit, the idea of these amateur films sputters out quickly, much more quickly than the script is willing to give up on them. The best title – My Dinner with Andre the Giant – is the first title shared, and each one mentioned or shown afterwards gets diminishing returns.
The dying girl is Rachel, played by British actress Olivia Cooke, who strangely is also currently playing a dying girl on the TV series Bates Motel. Cooke is a pretty and sweet actress and appears to be healthy. I’m not sure why exactly she seems to have been typecast as a patient of terminal diseases, but I will admit she does a very good job at the role. She is a high school acquaintance who has contracted leukemia. Greg’s mother forces him to spend some time with her, leading to an awkward but charming friendship.
Ironically, Rachel’s disease seems to be of secondary importance to the film. This is a film that is not about how Rachel handles the possibility of dying, it is about how the possibility of Rachel dying affects Greg. It’s a subtle distinction, and it is handled with tact, for the most part, but it feels like a bit of a cheat.
As often in these films, the adult characters are a little cartoonish: Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman) is an extremely eccentric college professor, mom (Connie Britton) is just a bit too much of a helicopter-mom, and the hip teacher (Jon Bernthal) tries just a bit too hard to be one of the kids. The worst adult character is Rachel’s mom, though, played by Molly Shannon with the kind of inappropriate over-the-top sleaziness that only Molly Shannon seems to trade in. It’s sort of hard to feel sympathy for a woman mourning the probably inevitable loss of a child while she is blatantly, creepily flirting with her daughter’s teenaged friends. Not to mention overacting wildly.
However, despite some flaws, Me and Girl and the Dying Girl takes an emotional hold on the audience and is eventually a sweet and charming story. If the film is sometimes a bit manipulatively maudlin (and the main character lies to the audience – not once, but twice – in the film voiceovers), it’s still a fine, smart and funny little slice of life.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 6, 2015.