“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” represents perfect summer counter-programming

2015 Sundance Film Festival Portraits - Day 2
Around this time last year, I basically fell head over heels in love with The Fault in Our Stars, the rare Young Adult (or YA) adaptation that really worked in my eyes. Well, fancy my surprise when I saw Me and Earl and the Dying Girl last week, a film that’s just as good, if not better. Another YA tale about the tragedy of teenager cancer, this one is a total horse of a different color. I really found myself moved by it, of course, but also laughing out loud quite a bit. This is as funny a flick as it is an emotional one. As such, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is as great as anything else that I’ve seen so far in 2015. I’m not sure it’ll wind up on Oscar’s radar, but it really should be.

The film is an adaptation of the well regarded book of the same name by author Jesse Andrews, who also pens the screenplay here. We follow Greg (played by Thomas Mann) as he’s forced to spend time with cancer stricken classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke). We also see him and his best friend/co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler) as they do intentionally bad remakes of classic cinema, turning for example A Clockwork Orange into A Sockwork Orange. Of course, all three are changed by the budding friendship, though the film resists easy sentiment or a love story. At times, it’s almost more concerned with comedy, though any tears that are shed are earned, I promise you that. The director here is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, while other members of the cast include Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Masam Holden, Katherine C. Hughes, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Bobb’e J. Thompson, and even the voice of Hugh Jackman in a great little cameo. A strong score is contributed from Brian Eno and Nico Muhly, while the cinematography is from noted DP Chung-hoon Chung. Everyone is top notch, with the combined work on display mixing together to form something truly special.

I can’t praise the films within the films enough, as they really help to make this soar and stand out. Not just a parody of A Clockwork Orange, there’s also Midnight Cowboy, among tons of others. The filmmakers really raid the Criterion Collection here, all done with a ton of love for the classics. The characters of Greg and Earl claim that they’re almost intentionally bad, the remakes they’re doing, but the love is definitely on display. It’s almost little tributes, but more than that, it builds towards an emotional conclusion involving an original work and gives the movie a definite flavor all its own.

The choice by scribe Andrews (both in book and screenplay form) as well as by director Gomez-Rejon to make this as belly achingly funny as it is heartbreaking was a bold one, especially considering the amount of quirk thrown in early on. In fact, the mixture was a little pungent at the start, only really finding its groove by the end of the first act. During the second act, things even out, with the final third proving to be the ace up the sleeve of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. By making this an indie comedy as well as a tragedy, the meal is fuller and the feelings are stronger. Everyone involved deserves a pat on the back for what they brought to the table here.

Awards wise, this could have a hard road ahead. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl could benefit from Fox Searchlight giving it the indie awards fare push, but the lack of a nomination or really serious contention for The Fault in Our Stars last year, as well as The Spectacular Now previously failing to hit, might let the Academy pretend that they can just ignore this one. If that’s not the case, campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Gomez-Rejon), Best Actor (for Mann), Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress (for Cooke), Best Supporting Actor (for Cyler), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Andrews), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score are worth putting forward. It really only has a realistic chance at Adapted Screenplay, but just being in the hunt would frankly be good enough for me.

Overall, regardless of its awards prospects this fall/winter, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is something special. It opens on Friday and is a must see. It’s touching, hilarious, and leaves you profoundly affected. I’ve been vague about what happens on purpose, but fans of the book should know what they’re in for. I can’t say enough about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, so while I’m keeping it brief here, know that I’ll have lots more to say next month when I run down the best of the first half of the year, as well as when Oscar season hits. It may or may not vie for Academy Awards, but it’s certainly something not to miss…

Be sure to check out Me and Earl and the Dying Girl this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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