Originally published on The National Student on 17/08/15.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Grand Jury prize winning Sundance hit isn’t quite the same defining quality as the festival’s other alumni, but it certainly still makes its mark.
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival back in January of this year – a platform that has played host to some of the best and brightest independent films since the 1980s (including the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Whiplash) – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was hailed as something of a contemporary teen classic. Walking away with both the Grand Jury and Audience awards, the film’s future seemed set; it was destined to be remembered for years to come.
Sadly, it seems that audiences and critics alike may well have been somewhat jumping the gun because, as much as it is a fun and emotional little journey through the teenage conscious, Earl is far from the realms of genre-defining.
Focussing solely on the exploits of socially-troubled young filmmaker Greg (Thomas Mann), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the very story of its title, chronicling the year he spends befriending former childhood acquaintance Rachel who has since been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Alongside Greg’s “co-worker”, best-friend and general partner in crime Earl, the pair set about breaking down their deepest fears and regrets as Rachel’s illness advances, uncovering the very essence of teenage life just as it appears to be about to slip out from underneath the both of them.
As such a plot synopsis no doubt indicates, this is a decidedly thoughtful effort, more so that is than what is usually expected of those daring to follow the classic coming-of-age formula. Jesse Andrews’ script – adapted from his own novel of the same name – is the real crowning glory here, a witty, insightful and seriously intelligent mishmash of goofy comedy and serious, grounded life drama. Its characters feel both rich and textured by the romanticised existence they live within whilst still seeming relatable enough to really get behind, helping to power a narrative that, although frequently finds itself wandering aimlessly through nowhere in particular, is consistently entertaining.
A large part of what helps this work though is the film’s central cast – a relatively low-key bunch whose dedication and genuine chemistry bring Andrews’ script to life with enough humour and charm to power the film for its entire run-time. Ample, but less necessary support is provided by a scatty Molly Shannon and what may well prove to be the least Swanson-like performance Nick Offerman ever delivers, but it’s truly the main players here who have the most fun and ultimately have the biggest impact.
This isn’t to say that every department is as well sourced however, as former TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon proves, not quite seeming to clue in to the film’s more human tone by trampling over it with his own far more brash, heavy-handed approach. Much like his previous effort The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Gomez-Rejon inundates the opening of Earl with a truly unnecessary barrage of pointlessly complicated camera-movements. Simple introductory sequences aren’t completely lost, but instead just pointlessly fragmented by his over-eager framing. Luckily as the film progresses, the director appears to learn the value of restraint more and more, only slipping into his former ways on a couple of random occasions, but the very fear of a shot being needlessly throw onto its side still emanates throughout, leaving Gomez-Rejon’s nasty fingerprints all over an otherwise more sober affair.
If Earl is to run into any other problems, it’s most likely to do with its thoroughly in-bred quirk. Andrews’ script calls for the audience to take a pretty casual stroll through Greg’s highly-romanticised thought-process and to be fair to the film, it does this rather effectively, presenting the narrative almost entirely as a string of connected memories. However, it becomes clear very quickly that this won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The further into Greg’s head the film journeys, the more obscure its references and visuals become, starting out as simply a few smart-ass titles but eventually morphing into an innate, lasting smugness that will no doubt deter the more cynically minded from cluing into its emotional conclusion.
Whilst it may not win points for narrative or visual innovation, and can be – at times – a little annoying, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl benefits from a hugely talented central cast who, alongside screenwriter Andrews, help to develop the film into a warm and foretelling coming-of-age comedy that proves to be just as consistently funny as it is emotional – not to mention playing host to one of the year’s cleverest cameos. It might not quite be the Sundance classic it was originally destined to be, but Earl packs enough seamless wit and charm to sell itself well.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, is released in the UK on 4th September by Twentieth Century Fox. Certificate 12A.