By Kaely Monahan
Originally published on GetOutAZ, June 18, 2015
It’s difficult to put into words just how profoundly good Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is. This film takes the generic coming of age story and injects with a realism that is largely lacking in similar films.
On a baseline level Me and Earl shares some similarities with the other recent teen movie about a girl with cancer. Recall that teen-tear-wringer The Fault in Our Stars? Yeah. This film is not that. While there is a guy and a girl with cancer, that is the only parallel. You won’t find a bleeding love story here.
Me and Earl encapsules perfectly the awkwardness of high school, the fear of the unknown (e.g. college), and confronting death. And it does it with such genuine hilarity that is surprising for such a heavy topic.
Thomas Mann, who plays Greg, found the story’s sincerity unique.
“I just thought it was really realistic the way it was written at least the way a teenager would handle that sort of situation.”
When we meet Greg it is his senior year of high school. He has the entire student population categorized and knows where everybody fits; except for himself. He has managed to coast through the four years without making enemies. At the same time he’s also managed to not form any real lasting friendships.
The exception is Earl (RJ Cyler), who Greg refuses to call his friend.
“We’re more like co-workers,” Greg explains to the audience.
Friends since kindergarten, Greg and Earl grew up watching classic cinema. Inspired they began making their own film parodies such as “Sockwork Orange,” “Eyes Wide Butt,” and “2:48 PM Cowboy.”
“On a some level we’re celebrating movies,” director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon said.
Any cinephile is certain to appreciate all the details Gomez-Rejon interjected. And they cover the gamut from movies to music. (Cat Stevens, the Siamese has a brief moment of glory). The Wes Andersonian feel to the film also has a sense of whimsy that reflects Greg’s personality; particularly the animated segments at the beginning; even the acts are delineated by title cards that say things like “Day 1 of Doomed Friendship.”
“It was very self-conscious at the beginning. (Greg’s) hyper real — how he’s telling us about his past — so it was going to be exaggerated and the space really influenced those big institutionalized kind of shots. The film was going to get softer and softer. It really kind of followed Greg’s path.” Gomez-Rejon explained.
Greg’s awkwardness is something we all can relate to. High school can be more often than not like a war zone — a comparison Greg makes on a regular basis.
“It’s just too overwhelming, and too new; he’s not equipped, he’s never gone through that before.” Mann said. “It’s just sort of awkward in watching him try be sensitive in a way, but it doesn’t really work. And that’s really entertaining to see.”
Greg is forced by his mother to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke). He rather sulkily agrees because he knows his mother won’t stop harassing him until he visits the “dying girl.” That is something all of us can relate to. (I recall my own moody teenage tantrums with no small amount of chagrin).
Predictably, Rachel refuses Greg’s paltry offer to “hang out.” But the barriers fall as Greg tells Rachel, she’ll be the one actually doing him a favor. With that admission she lets him into her inner sanctum.
“I feel that when you’re going through a lot personally you don’t really want to let that on,” Cooke said. “I feel that they’re both mentally just moved on and are so detached — and that includes friendships as well. So at the beginning of the movie it wasn’t on Rachel’s radar to make a friend at this point at all.”
“He’s also kind of a wonderful distraction with his humor — he’s trying,” Gomez-Rejon said. “First of all I think she appreciates his honesty … it made that so refreshing, because she’s probably heard a hundred people tell her all these kind of cliché things, ‘you’re going to make it through,’ and all that kind of stuff.”
Both characters were unwilling at the beginning, but an awkward friendship did form into something really heartwarming and real.
“He (Greg) is performing; and he’s so weird, and she’s getting him, and that begins to open them up.” Gomez-Rejon said.
It’s rare to see this kind of relationship shown in film about teenagers. At this point most films would turn into a sappy teen-romance, (I haven’t forgotten you Fault In Our Stars). This is one thing what makes Me and Earl so refreshingly good. And it something that Cooke found really wonderful.
“It’s a real platonic, wonderful, deep friendship, and love that they have for one another that is really depicted. And it’s very real because you do have those friendships in school.”
While the film centers a lot on Greg and his deepening friendship with Rachel, he relies heavily on Earl. His unflappable candor is the perfect foil to Greg’s neurosis. There’s a wisdom to Earl that both Greg and Rachel lack.
RJ Cyler said he saw a lot of himself in Earl.
“Earl is the ham and cheese — it’s like the most simple sandwich, it’s the one that everybody needs now and then. Earl is, I want to say alter ego, because we’re kind of the same person. He’s just more cut and dry, like he’ll make it as ugly as it needs to be as long as you get the point.”
Unlike Cyler, who will make the tough things “pretty” so you don’t end up feeling hurt or depressed.
“But he (Earl) doesn’t care about emotion or depression. He just cares if you get the point.”
“He’s the first one to come of age and Rachel follows and then eventually Greg,” Gomez-Rejon said.
It’s clear why this film took Sundance by storm. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will touch in ways that few films can.
“I knew it was something special when we were making it and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, if not the best thing. Creatively it was the most I have ever given — shared of myself on screen. It’s going to be hard to top this experience.” Mann said.
“It’s downhill from here,” Cooke jokingly said.
All kidding aside, this is the must see film of the year. Let’s hope we see it in the Oscar line up.
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Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, RJ Cyler, myself, Thomas Mann, and Olivia Cooke at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix. May 2015