Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" was, not surprisingly, one of the biggest hits at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It's not surprising not only because the film is a solid little indie film - funny and full of heart - but also because it's exactly the kind of picture that might thrive at Sundance.

So, while "Me and Earl" is, at times, a little too quirky for its own good and occasionally aims too much to emulate a Wes Anderson or, more unfortunately, Jared Hess type of film, it's also well made and acted.

In the film, high schooler Greg (Thomas Mann) gets by by not rocking the boat. He's just friendly enough with every group at this school, so that he rarely runs into conflict with anyone. His seemingly only true friend is Earl (RJ Cyler), a kid from the projects with whom he shoots idiosyncratic remakes of popular films - for example, "A Sockwork Orange," "2:48 P.M. Cowboy" and "My Dinner with Andre the Giant."

That a group of high school students in this day and age would be familiar with the works of Ingmar Bergman, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is, perhaps, forcing the audience to extend its disbelief too far, but that's OK because the parodies elicit smiles.

As a favor to his mother, Greg is asked to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow high school student who has been diagnosed with cancer. Although "Me and Earl" veers perilously close to being the weepie of the week, it manages to avoid such a fate due to its oddball sense of humor and characters that defy cliches.

While Mann, Cyler and Cooke all provide solid work, the supporting cast is equally good, especially Nick Offerman as Greg's hippie-cook father, Molly Shannon as Rachel's mother and Jon Bernthal as Greg and Earl's teacher, who provides them space at lunch time to watch movies by Werner Herzog.

Gomez-Rejon, whose only previous film was the unseen-by-me remake of "The Town That Dreaded Sundown," uses all manner of visual tricks to tell his story here, including everything from cartoon imagery to shots that are turned sideways, the latter effect for seemingly no purpose.

On occasion, "Me and Earl" is a little too precious for its own good, especially when coupled with the very serious turn it takes near its finale. But the performances, writing and overall charm of the picture go a long way and Gomez-Rejon's film is ultimately worth your while. I'm curious to see what he does next.

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