Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Curious as to why it won both major awards at last year’s Sundance Film Festival?
As we watch sequel after sequel dominate the big screen, it is a relief to find a film that plows new territory. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a creative work of art from beginning to end, and to paraphrase an old Star Trek theme, it takes us on a journey never gone before.
The title of this film has meaning, and that is giving nothing away. As you watch a teenage girl named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) confront a harsh cancer diagnosis, you feel like you are watching another version of Inside Out. Only here, her central control system is dominated by anger, hope, friendship and despair.
The film centers around two high school seniors, both living uncertain lives. Greg (Thomas Mann) is frustrated by controlling parents (wonderfully played by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton) who, among other things, find the need to continually search his room. His only meaningful outlet is with a black friend, Earl (RJ Cyler in a memorable role), with whom he makes some spectacularly inventive movie spoofs of old classics. For example, Midnight Cowboy is called 2:58 P.M. Cowboy. These kids are very funny.
On the other hand, their small movies are shown to no one, and Greg’s life changes dramatically when his mother forces him to go visit a friend’s daughter who has been diagnosed with leukemia. He hates the whole thought of pretending to build a friendship on nothing more than an order from a parent, yet an unexpected relationship blooms with the above-referred to Rachel that will leave you alternating between laughter and tears.
Earl gets involved with this caustic duo, and the movie explodes on an emotional level that you will simply have to see to appreciate. While Earl is a kid from the poor side of town who has more common sense than Greg, it is Ms. Cooke’s role as Rachel that rises to an unforgettable level. She wants no pity, and continues to find relief from an escalating illness that is destroying her by watching the crazy films made by Greg and Earl.
A friendship that Greg wanted to avoid begins to control his life. As Rachel’s condition worsens, he stops attending school to try to provide her with some relief. Their grief becomes yours, so come prepared.
This is anything but a romantic film, and these three characters wrestle with life and death in an enthralling fashion. In the end, you are left wishing that there was a way to simply tell Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, “THANK YOU”.