Friday, 11 September 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is essentially bombing at the box office everywhere. And that's quite sad, really, as it's rare to have a teen comedy-drama this refreshingly unique. The book that this film was adapted from almost begs for comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars, but where this film triumphs in areas that John Green's adaptation didn't is how it presents itself as a film. Me and Earl is self-referential, smart, quirky. It takes what could have been a relatively ordinary premise and injects it with life and excitement. Whilst The Fault in Our Stars was a good film, there wasn't really anything exciting or new about it. That did, occasionally, work in the film's favour; its simplicity was one of its greatest strengths. But Me and Earl has a visual and writing style that allows it to really stand out from the pack of other similarly themed films. The box office may be forgetting about it relatively soon, but anyone who viewed it won't be.

Greg (Thomas Mann) - an awkward self-loathing teenager with only one real friend, Earl (Ronald Cyler) - learns that his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, and is forced by his parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton) to visit her in her time of need. Despite them both initially rejecting each other's company, they form a close friendship, only made more complicated by Rachel's deteriorating condition. Me and Earl, on paper, sounds conventional. It sounds like your typical high school tearjerker that exists solely to make viewers cry, but it becomes so much more than that. Beginning as a film-enthusiast's delight, we learn that Greg and Earl are fans of classic foreign cinema, there are nods to Werner Herzog among others. Greg and Earl's low budget short films are silly but enjoyable to watch, each titled with a twist on a more recognised feature film; A Sockwork Orange, for example, or the quite brilliant A Box o'lips, Wow!. Small touches like this help define Greg and Earl in the film's earliest moments before we even know them properly, and only makes the rest of the film more affectionate.

Me and Earl is benefited mostly from its performances. Sure, there are neat little camera tricks (a camera tracking sideways as Greg walks down a street), some nice self-referential dialogue in the narration, humorous chapter titles and fun animated cutaway metaphors; a moose stomping repeatedly on a mouse symbolising when "a hot girl talks to you at school" is a particular highlight. But the film gets by predominantly on the strength of Mann and Cooke. Mann plays Greg with an infectious likability, his "quirky" personality is endearing and never annoying, his occasional lapse into saying the wrong thing just makes him more human. Cooke also succeeds in balancing the fine line between sympathetic and helpless; we as the viewer know that Greg can't do anything to help Rachel's condition, but she manages to make us want that to be possible. Cooke, and the film itself, never overplay any of her emotional sequences, but neither do they feel underdone. The tonal balance is struck seamlessly in Greg and Rachel's first encounter, and it never falls off track. Rather than fall in love, their relationship remains entirely platonic, giving the film a refreshing advantage over the whole "boys meets girl but one of them is dying" trope.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl also succeeds in being simply very funny, but also very emotional. It's a difficult balance to pull off, but the strength of the film's script, direction and performances enable it to get there. The first act might not click together as well as the other two, but Me and Earl is enjoyable from the offset; a fun, insightful, unique approach to a story told countless times before. Greg spends the whole film narrating the story to us, informing us twice that Rachel doesn't die at the end despite telling us at the very beginning that he makes a film that literally kills someone. Tricks like this leave Rachel's fate in the balance, it's difficult to predict how the story will end and it never takes the easy route there. It also does a fine job of creating emotion in places away from Rachel; Greg and Earl's fight is genuinely upsetting to watch, as well as a particularly poignant and touching moment between Greg and his mother in which the camera lingers on Britton's face just long enough to see the tears build in her eyes, only to cut away before they leak. Me and Earl is funny, nice, touching and upsetting. It will make you laugh and it has more than enough capacity to make you cry, as well as everything in between. Only the best films can evoke that kind of response.

To Summarise: Intelligently crafted, nicely acted and affectionately written, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an excellent coming of age comedy-drama with a genuinely emotional story rooted at its core.

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