Based on Jesse Andrews’ 2012 book of the same name, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s new film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a love letter to film nerds, best friends, slackers, dreamers, and anybody who never quite overcame, maybe purposefully, that awkward, lonely high school phase.
Taking place and filmed on location in Pittsburgh (dig the Dawn of the Dead patch on Greg’s jacket), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), an underachieving High School student who feels like he doesn’t belong with any particular social group so he tries to stay on extremely casual good terms with them all, and his “co-worker” Earl (Ronald Cyler II) , who he is reluctant to call his friend even though they’ve been nearly inseparable since childhood. Greg’s apathetic existence gets complicated when he befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke) at his mother’s behest. Formerly one of his risk free acquaintances, Rachel has just been diagnosed with leukemia, and as her condition worsens, her and the boys begin to reluctantly bond over Earl and Greg’s formerly secret hobby of creating intentionally terrible homemade remakes of famous films.
The cast does amazingly well with the somewhat difficult material. Realistically portraying typically bipolar, mood swing-y teenagers can be a tall order but Cyler, Cooke and Mann pull it off while keeping the characters relatable and sympathetic, though never to a corny or sappy degree. The supporting cast is excellent too, standouts being Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead’s Shane, also great in The Wolf of Wall Street) as Greg and Earl’s tattooed, eccentric History teacher who grants them amnesty from the horrors of the cafeteria by letting them eat lunch in his office and Nick Offerman (The Immortal Ron Swanson) as Greg’s spacey, weird food eating, cat befriending but overall kind and supportive Dad.
I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie after not being terribly impressed with the cloying, Wes Anderson-lite vibe of the trailer. Don’t be put off by that though, this film is truly funny and truly sad in equal measure, with a difficult to achieve and hard to quantify authenticity that is extremely rare in “teen” or “high school” movies, especially of the current vintage.
We were also lucky enough to attend a Q & A with Mann, Cooke and Gomez-Rejon after the movie. They expounded upon several aspects of the filmmaking, including the many Scorsese-esque long takes in the film, one that even transpires while the famous long take from Taxi Driver plays on TV in the background, Olivia Cooke actually shaving her head for the role, and how they filmed the movie parodies. They were all warm, gracious and charming and made me like the movie even more than I already did.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens in limited release on June 12th.