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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Goes to the Head of the 2015 Film Class

<i>Me and Earl and the Dying Girl</i> Goes to the Head of the 2015 Film Class

DVD Release Date: October 6, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: June 12, 2015
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, R.J. Cyler, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal

As one summer tent-pole film after another opens a bit softer than expected—then drops off more quickly than anticipated—entertainment reporters have focused on perceptions of disappointing overall 2015 box-office. Rare is the film that finds the sweet spot of critical accolades and box-office appeal.

The year so far hasn’t lacked great films, but those that qualify for superlatives have been primarily limited-release fare. Acclaimed commercial hits like Paddington opened several months ago, or, in the case of the more recent Mad Max: Fury Road, have suffered by comparison to the higher grossing Pitch Perfect 2, which opened the same weekend as Mad Max.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl feels, rightly or wrongly, like one of a dying breed: a film without big stars or built-in brand recognition, but with potentially broad appeal. A teenage relationship movie with a heavy dose of comedy, it should attract both teens and adults, while cinema buffs will love the film’s homages to well-known earlier movies (the homages come in the form of home movies filmed by two of the story’s main characters). At the story’s core is a forced friendship that blossoms into something that amuses, delights and quietly devastates the audience. Comparisons to the 1980s teen comedies from writer/director John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) or to the more recent The Fault in Our Stars aren’t amiss. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl—another romance about, as in Stars, a girl fighting cancer—has enough quirky humor from its main characters and supporting cast (including sitcom and Saturday Night Live veterans) to make the film a standout among 2015 releases. It’s not only a candidate for the season’s first sleeper hit; it’s a strong contender as the year’s best film so far.

When Greg (Thomas Mann) isn’t in school, he’s making spoofs of classic movies with friend Earl (R.J. Cyler). Their friendship, however, doesn’t seem to go much below their surface enjoyment of movies. Indeed, the aloof Greg has no deep relationships with any of his peers, so when his mother (Connie Britton) insists that he befriend a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia, Greg is mortified.

Unable to disguise his motives, Greg wins Rachel over with his honesty about the situation : He plans to spend just enough time with her to get his mom off his back. With that bumpy beginning to their relationship behind them, the two “friends” actually begin to enjoy one another’s company.

The story easily could have become maudlin or, in an effort to steer clear of easy tears, too wacky. (Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman and Saturday Night Live alumnus Molly Shannon generate laughs, some of which are uncomfortable, but don’t overwhelm the rest of the story.) But director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon pitches the material just right, helped by a voiceover from Greg that undercuts any assumptions that we in the audience might have about where the story is headed. (The script was written by Jesse Andrews, who authored the book on which the film is based.) Mann and Cooke give generous performances that will be benchmarks against which their future work is judged, and although Cyler’s part is less well defined, he’s given a key scene late in the film that drives the story to its moving conclusion.

Refreshingly, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl pulls all this off without finding an excuse to get the two lead characters to sleep with each other. No, it’s not a squeaky-clean film (its PG-13 rating is due largely to some squirm-inducing affection toward Greg from Rachel’s mom, and a running joke about masturbation), but the characters are vivid and the emotional component of the film vital.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the audience and grand jury awards at the high-profile Sundance Film Festival, but less attention has been paid to the film’s Truly Moving Picture Award at the Heartland Film Festival. According to the Heartland website, that award goes to “a film with transformative power [that] is creative, beautiful, original, artistic and truthful.” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is all of those things, and it belongs high up on any list of the best films of 2015 so far.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: The Lord’s name taken in vain; the f word; “a-s”; crude terms for female anatomy and male anatomy; “s-it”; reference to a dog’s “smelly b---hole”; “dam-it”; joke names of film spoofs within the movie include “Pooping Tom”
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Greg has hallucinations after eating some soup and believes he’s accidentally on drugs; “Ill Phil” at Greg’s school is a drug dealer; Greg and Earl’s film parodies include “Brew Velvet”; wine drinking; smoking
  • Sex/Nudity: A website shows a girl dancing; discussion of tampons; Rachel’s mom comes on to Greg, calling him a “delicious, yummy, young boy”; a running joke about masturbation; a joke about the “last chance to be with a man”
  • Violence/Crime: Friends fight
  • Religion/Marriage/Morals: Rachel is told to remember that her cancer “is all part of God’s plan”; a character says he was made to feel blessed

Publication date: June 11, 2015