Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a funny film about dying. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed this gem, which won best film at Sundance Film Festival and should do well. But, alas, the title is a downer, not the film. Norman Mailer taught me that a title should tell the audience what the book or movie is about. And yet, this title, I fear, will keep an audience away when this is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen this year. It is totally creative with a plot that is unpredictable and quirky. That's the word for this film. Quirk.
The actors are mostly unknown, save Molly Shannon, who adds a tremendous amount of quirk appeal. There is also Connie Britton, but she plays it straight as oddball teenage Greg's nagging Mom. Greg is played effortlessly by Thomas Mann, who has such an enormous appeal that his performance wraps your heart around his finger. Yet, it is Molly Shannon who almost steals the film playing the dying girl's mother, Denise, who needs her cocktail in her hand to face her daughter's terminal diagnosis. She does this with great acting chops and ease, yet keeps any overtly distasteful behavior on the back burner.
Greg is a loser in high school, and to light some gumption under his jeans, his mom tells him to make one visit to Rachel (Olivia Cook) to cheer her up. One visit he begrudgingly agrees to. This one visit turns into a deep friendship, and the addition of Greg's co-worker, Earl (R.J. Cyler), who becomes smitten with Rachel as well. Greg tells Rachel when he pays his first visit to her that he does not want to be there and would rather be somewhere else, but he promised his mother that he would visit her because she has terminal cancer.
This honesty makes Rachel smile, and slowly, these two teenagers begin their quirk. Their conversations are genuine, fresh, witty and not about death, but instead about laughing in the face of it. The writing by Jesse Andrews from Andrew's novel is stellar. Greg tells Rachel he is a filmmaker and has done some fourteen films. She begs him to show her one, then two, and thus, she becomes his fan of what are truly awful films.
They are parodies of the most famous films of all time, but are so silly that not even a grimace will appear on your lips. I assure you. Rachel has now found a chum who feels more odd about his identity than she does with her chemo head and its baldness. Earl confronts Greg that the co-worker line he feeds people about their relationship is just a cover up for his fear of intimacy. After all, they have been friends since childhood. Earl tells Greg that Greg is afraid to call him a friend as Greg feels Earl might abandon him and never show up on his doorstep again. These are poor working-class folk who hold each other up through cancer, through poverty, through whatever.
Holding each other up is what this film is about. Earl gives Greg the idea to make a film about Rachel for Rachel and this quirky film is the backbone of the quirky movie. Greg has a difficult time making it as he is getting closer and closer to having real feelings for Rachel, and knows she is dying. But the film must go on, and in the end, a delightful movie is made to pay tribute to Rachel who is her stoic, quirky self throughout this splendid tour de force. Telling you about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does not do it justice. You have to see it.
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