2015 DC FilmFest: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” has already joined some pretty acclaimed company this year after taking both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award at January’s Sundance Film Festival. “Whiplash” and “Fruitvale Station” were the last two films to do that. So, does Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s cancer comedy live up to its predecessors? Short answer, yes.
The wit of “Me and Earl” shines through, easily making it the funniest movie of the year so far, but it is the message of friendship and life at the film’s heart that will make it stick with you.
Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” tells the story of Greg, a teenager who has actively attempted to avoid becoming real friends with anyone, and how he is forced to hangout with Rachel after she is diagnosed with leukemia. The two eventually form a deep connection though Greg’s short films that he makes with his only real friend, Earl.
Andrews also wrote the adaptation for the big screen version of his novel. The author lifts the humor from his pages and seamlessly transfers it onto the screen. With sharp dialogue to provide the laughs and heartfelt moments to draw tears, Andrews should be a contender at the end of the year for some screenplay honors.
Equal to the task of Andrews script were the actors actually dishing out the lines. Playing two-thirds of the titular characters, Earl and the dying girl, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke were great. Cooke gives a strong performance as Rachel, soft-spoken but powerful. It is Cyler who is the film’s standout, though. Earl is a man of few words and laidback disposition, but you can’t help but gravitate toward him with a control beyond that of most young actors only in their second feature film.
As for Greg, Thomas Mann is solid as the film’s lead, but he had a much fuller plate than Cooke and Cyler did, carrying the weight of the story. Even though cancer plays a major part in “Me and Earl,” the story is more about friendship and becoming comfortable in who we are in our own skin, with most of that seen through Greg. Mann’s comedic timing in the film is great; the balancing act between that and Greg’s arch is where Mann isn’t able to quite keep up with Cooke and Cyler, but a strong performance from the young actor regardless.
Nick Offerman and Jon Bernathal also have brief but good supporting turns, as well as a memorable turn from Molly Shannon. She gets to do the awkward kind of humor that she is known for, but she does it with the pain of having to be a mother watch her daughter battle cancer just underneath the surface; Shannon’s performance is one of the film’s delightful surprises.
Director Alfoson Gomez-Rejon aslo was a bit of a surprise, giving a guiding hand to “Me and Earl.” Best known for directing episodes of “Glee” and his previous attempt to tell a story about kids with terminal diseases, the short-lived Fox show “Red Band Society,” Gomez-Rejon hits the sweet spot here.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” has a unique voice and a message worth hearing. Filled with plenty of laughs and a number of strong performances that seem destined to make it one of the indie hits of the year.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” will be released on June 12.