Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke
It’s been a while since I last teared up watching a movie. In fact, out of the 270 movies I’ve watched this year (shameless plug, catch my short reviews on Twitter @moviereview365), I haven’t shed a single tear…until now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some emotionless boar, it just takes a special kind of poignancy to move me to tears. Now, ‘Me And Earl And The Dying Girl’ is not some soppy, corny film. It’s too profound and perceptive for that. It’s actually one of the most intelligent films I’ve seen all year, and its story can only, very simply, be described as “important”.
Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is your typical, under-the-radar high school student who spends most of his time keeping his head down and avoiding the various cliques. One day, his mom forces him to go visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke) – a girl in his class whom he hasn’t spoken with since kindergarten – after she gets diagnosed with cancer, much to Greg’s chagrin. Surprisingly, the two find they have much in common and grow close. As Greg and Rachel bond over the banality of being young, they begin to form a plaintive friendship of the most tragic order- one with an expiration date. As Rachel’s health wanes, Greg’s emotions buoy as he is forced to come to grips with loss for the first time. As penance, Greg and his home-filmmaking best friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), decide to make her a movie to commemorate the beautiful life she has lived.
What makes ‘MAEATDG’ (Me And Earl And The Dying Girl) work begins with the depth to which it is willing to take on ordinary matters, such as the vast significance of spending time with others and the meaning of “forced friendships.” At times, the film certainly slows to build the drama, but it never loses focus. This film is not meant to have a happy ending, like many of its contemporaries. It’s meant to make you think and believe in the purpose of interpersonal connection on every level, matching typical coming-of-age charm with debonair insight.
Thomas Mann (of ‘Project X’ fame) stars as Greg. Not enough can be said about the candor and diffidence he brings to an emotionally tough role for a young actor to nail. Nevertheless, he rocks it with class and grace. In one of her first feature films, Olivia Cooke goes out on a limb as the dying girl, Rachel. To play a leukemia patient and go bald in one of your first roles takes stones and let me be the first to tell you that the young Ms. Cooke has them. In his debut, RJ Cyler, as Earl, continuously chimes in with prudent sagacity as Greg’s best friend and compass. Throw in a little Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon, adding some levity to what amounts to a rather heavy flick, and you’ve got yourself a terrific picture.
The beauty of ‘MAEATDG’ has less to do with the story it tells, but more to do with the story it teaches; life is short and death is inevitable. When it happens prematurely, it is a tough pill to swallow. It’s one you have to face head on, and sometimes alone, but it’s the friends and family you have around you through tragedy that makes those moments matter and last. It’s a rough, and perhaps, cringe-worthy narrative to attempt in film. The narrative of inevitable tragedy can only stand so much lightheartedness before it becomes too real. That’s probably why it drove me to tears. It’s difficult watching the harsh realities of the universe come to fruition, but one thing this film accomplishes is expressing the beauty of that inevitability.