Here is an early review for ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL – from my first ever PRESS SCREENING – a refreshing drama filled with comedy. This beautifully photographed story is primed for movie nerd consumption. You’ll see what I mean…

First off, I never expected to laugh so much in a movie about a DYING GIRL.

Shakespeare said that stories are either a tragedy or a comedy. Well, this tragedy is full of comedy. While this film’s heart is huge, it never verges into cheesy melodrama.

This movie is aware of other movies in the romantic genre, and it makes certain we know early on that ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is not a romance. It’s not a movie about love, it’s a movie about friendship. It’s a movie about life. 

THOMAS MANN portrays our main character, Greg, a high school senior forced by his mother to hang out with a fellow student, Rachel, (OLIVIA COOKE from BATES MOTEL and OUIJA) dying of leukemia.

Greg doesn’t want to earn cool points or sympathy from his peers, he just wants his mom off his back. It’s refreshing to have such a heart-warming story filled with such reluctance.

Our hero isn’t out to save the world. He’s just trying to get through high school without getting noticed. He’d rather be invisible than be seen.

Because of this conflict, the blooming friendship is unexpected. Rachel doesn’t want Greg’s pity, and he doesn’t want to be there either. They both want to be left alone and wallow in their own self-pity.

The bond that forms between them is ever more precious once it develops. They needed each other at this point in their lives. Although poetic, and possibly too schmaltzy, the movie never conveys emotion in this manner. 

A cynical approach helped me connect with these characters. A lot of romantic films have rather forced relationships. It’s often love at first sight. ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL is awkward at first sight. It’s pessimistic upon introduction. It’s pissed off at existence.

This indie gem is the perfect divergent from the over-the-top and on-the-nose romance teens are mostly faced with. This indie focuses on realism. It doesn’t talk down to its audience. It embraces the awkward outcast and reminds them they aren’t alone.

The performances carry this film. We easily relate with each character. Mann is a revelation as the cynical and depressed loner. Cooke delivers a daring and emotional performance, also shaving her head and obscuring her beauty for the role.

Even Earl (RJ CYLER) gets some development. He starts off as a Kramer-like guest-star, popping in and out frame with hilarious one-liners. But by the end, even this supporting character is fully realized.

Each co-star in other supporting roles all have their own stand-out moment. The impressive ensemble includes Connie Britton (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, NASHVILLE) as the mom who pushes her son into action, Nick Offerman (PARKS & REC) as an obscure foodie connoisseur, Molly Shannon(SNL) as a overly-flirty wine-loving mother, and Jon Berenthal (FURY, WALKING DEAD) as a teacher turned mentor-figure.

The story goes that Mann and Cyler’s characters were friends since childhood, although Greg still insists on calling Earl his “co-worker”. Their friendship revolves around their interest in film making.

They take well-known films and make really crappy remakes (sounds like Hollywood). They make them bad on purpose though, in a fashion reminding me of BE KIND, REWIND with Jack Black and Mos Def.

just one of the many short films Greg & Earl made

These short films they make gives the story a goal – make a movie for the dying girl before she, you know, dies – and brings an impressive eclectic style to the proceedings.

Some highlights of these movies include SOCK-WORK ORANGE (remade with sock puppets), A-BOX-OF-TULIPS NOW (instead of Apocalypse, focused on – that’s right – a box of oragami tulips), and my favourite – 2:48 PM COWBOY (Jon Voight’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY – with Earl as Voight).

These strange art projects are just one example of the quirky visuals and off-kilter humour this film consistently provides.

There are tons of film references sprinkled about for the dedicated movie nerd to spot. The film is in love with film.

Each and every awkward movie nerd needs to see ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Not only will they appreciate all the Easter Eggs, but they will also feel represented in a genre they rarely are.

an example of the excellent framing the director uses… look at the purposeful distance between them… some bold static shots run for a minute or longer

The director, Alfonso Romez-Rejon, makes a stunning debut outside of the horror genre. What?! Yeah, this guy has directed episodes for AMERICAN HORROR STORY and the remake of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. This goes to show you, directors should not be pigeon-holed by their work.

Romez-Rejon not only succeeds in balancing the tone, but he also imbues the film with incredible energy.His daring and bold direction goes against tradition. His framing is spectacular and brave, often placing his principles at the edges of the frame, facing opposite directions – breaking supposed cinematic laws.

The camera movement reminds me of the constant pushing utilized by Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Stanley Kubrick. The quirkier sequences like the spoofs Greg & Earl make, hallucinations, and the stop-motion animation cut-aways remind me of Spike Jonze by way of Charlie Kaufman. Romez-Rejon combines all the best influences in a mad scientist brew of cinema.

I also really enjoyed the Titlecards that act as Chapter divides, like “This is the part where I enter a doomed relationship.” 

Romez-Rejon also manages to sneak in powerful visual metaphors with the screening of Greg & Earl’s final short film.

The actual ending was perfectly orchestrated with clues sprinkled throughout. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL will reward the repeat viewer.

* Sorry for being vague, I’m avoiding spoilers, as this film has yet to premiere in theaters. *

I eagerly anticipate this director’s next feature. I hope he remains in the indie world, continuing to focus on style and character.

Romez-Rejon achieved the impossible and actually captured the imagination of his characters. Since these characters largely live through their creativity, our experience is largely informed by how exciting these sequences are.

The final sequence I vaguely hint at is a great example of handling creativity perfectly.

one of the funnier scenes… that means something completely different by the end, framed by a different context

The only thing holding this film back from a perfect score is its tone. While I think both comedy and drama were effective, I laughed way more than I cried. The characters and comedy were the highlight.

I definitely empathized with these characters and easily stepped into their shoes. I felt for them. No doubt.

If anything, I just feel like certain parts of the third act could have landed with even more weight and been even more emotional.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a stylish cinematic feat, thankfully avoiding melodrama. It’s compassionate with cynicism.

When the Oscars roll around I feel like this deserving film will be forgotten, but keep in mind it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Don’t miss this indie gem when it’s released on June 12.

Mann, Cooke, and Romez-Rejon all make worthy nominees, as does the standout screenplay by Jesse Andrews (adapting his own novel).

Spend some time with these unlikely friends and reflect upon yourself. Take some valuable cues on how you can get to know your friends better. You never know when tragedy may strike.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL reminds us of how fun life is. The film is ultimately uplifting. Don’t worry, you won’t leave the theater depressed.

We may get weighed down by everything that’s wrong in the world or in our lives. This film let’s us know it’s okay to spoof life, just like these characters do with their own art projects.

Most importantly, this impeccable directorial debut infused with delightful performances, cautions us all to not be invisible.


What do you think?

Should Olivia Cooke and this film get recognized come Award season?

Leave a comment below.

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