How to Push Ahead in Life with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, A Movie Review

7 Jul

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a clever film that looks at the life for an awkward teen, Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) who needs to look outside of the box more than ever. Instead of making parodies of internationally well-known avant-garde films with his friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II), his talents gets a different push into looking into what kind of man he can become. This movie is a coming of age tale for Greg. He learns how to fit in instead of trying to become invisible to the world that’s around him.

He forsakes his high school life during lunch time. Most of the time is spent in the office of his high school history teacher where he can remain isolated. Along with Earl, they just do not know where to belong in this macrocosm of social space. While the instructor tries to impart some wisdom, it’s largely ignored.

For Greg, he gets a push at home to go befriend Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), who lives several houses down. They go to the same school and they were friends when they were young, but the pressures of school had them moving in different directions. When she’s diagnosed with leukemia, she leaves school so she can undergo intensive chemotherapy. With no social outlet, Greg’s parents begs them to rekindle their friendship, and at the same time, he learns that there has to be more to life than this. If this film took some cues from Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury‘s duet of the same name, there are some remarkable similarities. Fortunately, this movie delves more into the drama between the two teens than the romance that forms. With a light dose of comedy, this movie thankfully does not become too depressing because of the challenge director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has in tackling a difficult subject in how not to give away the ending when one of the leading characters has an illness that has a varied rate of success.

The humour that’s injected in this film helps lift the tale. Cooke shines in her role of a young lady facing the most difficult challenge of them all; whether to give up hope or to soldier on. She finds the best out of Greg and that’s what carries this film. The chemistry that both she and Mann has on-screen shines with a serenity that nearly everyone watching this movie should connect with. A tear can be shed.

Like the movies within a movie that’s nestled in this narrative, they serve to explain the functionality of what goes on in Greg’s mind. This parodies films like Senior Citizen Cane, A Sockwork Orange and 2:48 PM Cowboy along with the faux movie posters made to complement this film adds a surreal layer to this movie that must be appreciated. There’s even some stop motion work that alludes to Jan Švankmajer’s own style. These asides add an interesting caramel topping to a product that begs a study of its own. Just why is Greg really fascinated with foreign films?

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The book this film is based on may answer them, but when considering Greg’s father (played by Nick Offerman) was once an art critic turned philosopher, perhaps that’s why the young lad has similar interests. The son is certainly the fruit of his father’s loins, and everything in his room is tell-tale about his interest in making movies, and just what he will become later in life may well be that of Woody Allen.

4 Stars out of 5

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