Sundance 2015 Review: ‘Me & Earl and the Dying Girl’ Kills It

Me & Earl and the Dying Girl is my type of movie. I love movies about grief because I think they are a healthy, productive way to deal with the emotion. Me & Earl and the Dying Girl uses humor to deal with grief which I find to be the healthiest, and certainly most fun, way to deal with it. 

Greg (Thomas Mann) has a pretty clever way of getting through high school. He’s mildly friendly with every clique so that no one bullies him. His only real friend though is Earl (RJ Cyler), a fellow movie nerd with whom he makes spoofs of highbrow art films. When a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with Leukemia, Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forces him to spend time with her. After a very awkward first meeting, Greg and Rachel form a true friendship, which is destined to end in tragedy. 

The whimsical humor goes a long way to alleviate any of that inevitable tragedy. There’s such a collection of absurd and clever bits that there’s no one consistent joke. It’s a collection of magnificent creativity. The visualization of a text message, the effect of mom’s nagging and the photo on Rachel’s wall are all examples of loving interpretations of high school obsessions and all film references in their own way. 

The movies Greg and Earl make are hilarious. I mean, you have to be a real film nerd to get it, but I know Herzog films, so I get it. I hope the DVD will have complete versions of Greg and Earl’s art movie spoofs. 

I love the way Alfonso Gomez-Rejon uses the camera. I was really impressed with his Town that Dreaded Sundown remake for the way he made it feel unique and intimate for a traditional slasher. He takes it to the next level here, this time with cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. Whip pans are a consistent device that shift the framing effectively. An epic dolly through the school cafeteria, full of teenaged extras, plants us right in Greg’s world in a single shot. A very dramatic scene plays out in a single static long take. 

The extended cast is wonderful. Nick Offerman as Greg’s dad with his exotic cuisine and fashion creates a character Ron Swanson would probably hate, but that we love equally. Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom breaks your heart with a piece of poignant advice for Greg’s future. Jon Bernthal plays the coolest teacher on the planet. 

Me & Earl and the Dying Girl understands and respects teenagers. It knows they are sensitive and intelligent, but panic can take a teen defense mechanism to the extreme. It’s a beautiful, hilarious gift, and if it introduces a new generation to Fitzcarraldo, even better. 

 

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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.