Coming-of-age Dramas are, in my opinion, of the most difficult genres to tackle for movie-makers. These films are a culmination of a number of very fragile elements that, if executed improperly, will surely compromise the quality and authenticity of the final product. And seldom have directors succeeded in making a film that speaks to its audience on a deeper level. While some recent ventures have come close (The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars, Restless), very few have hit the mark (The Perks of Being A Wallflower).
The newest addition to the list is Me and Earl and the Dying, courtesy of acclaimed TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. The film follows quirky high school student and aspiring film-maker Greg and his coworker Earl as they navigate life having recently befriended cancer-stricken classmate, Rachel.
More than anything else, the film is a look into the life of a teen that represents the anxieties and insecurities faced by most adolescents, and is a refreshing and much-needed far cry from the pedestrian portrayal of most teens in high school dramas in Hollywood.
As often is the case with films that involve cancer, a huge obstacle to be weary of is to make sure that it remains an element of the plot and not the plot itself. The last major high school drama that invovled cancer was the 2014 mega hit The Fault on Our Stars. I said it at the time, and I’ll say it again: the film manages to be about cancer without being about cancer. In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the plot centers not on the battle against the disease per se, but on relationship between these individuals and the fragility of life, as told through the eyes of adolescents in a crucial point in their lives (end of high school).
The film benefits from Gomez-Rejon‘s witty direction. The camera work in particular is impressive. From the interesting angles all throughout the film to some of its beautiful shots, the film captures the cosiness of its setting and the intimacy of its storylines. The work showcases the director’s talent, and proves him a potential force, one to definitely keep an eye on.
Of course, what is a director without his/her cast? And what an ensemble this was. Thomas Mann is a perfect pick for Greg. He portrays his character in a way that is deeply convincing, to an extent where it almost stops being acting and feels like Mann is playing himself. The way in which he brings out the insecurities of his character is truly relatable on many levels. This becomes especially evident in Greg’s physicalities and mannerisms that speak to the sort of person he is and stay true to him from the beginning of the movie to the end. The actor’s upcoming project is The Preppie Connection, and if this is any indicator of Mann‘s talent, I’ll be tuning in.
Joining Mann in a supporting role is RJ Cyler, who plays the eponymous Earl, Greg’s friend and co-worker. The actor effuses a nonchalant vibe that resonates with the carefree nature of his character, thus adding some comedy and blunt realism to the otherwise gloomy ambience of the film.
Completing the trio is Olivia Cooke, playing the cancer-ridden Rachel. Her emotional take on the character leaves the viewer deeply touched and fascinated by her at the same time. In her darkest moments, she exudes the spirit of a resilient fighter, but one that is unforgettably also a scared teenager.
The cast is supported by quirky and sufficiently distracting performances from Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon, who bring their own over-the-top flavour to the table, eliciting a few laughs here and there.
The best part of the film, for me, was the script. The movie was so well paced, beautifully directing the storyline to a near perfect ending scene, one that was not only fitting for the movie, but touching in general — quite a memorable one from this year.
One thing the film could have benefitted more from was music. The soundtrack was just lackluster. The plot paved way for what could have been a great soundtrack of mostly indie songs, befitting for its intimate atmosphere.
The cinematography of the movie is quite interesting. The faded colour gradients match the bleak ora of the film, but perhaps stringer and brighter colours would have done the product better. The juxtaposition of the prospect of death and lively colours could have added an interesting layer to the film. Still, the final product is a beauty to look at.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl paints a portrait of adolescence rarely scene in cinema today, with its lead character reflecting the quirkiness and awkwardness of his age. The film’s sense rawness and innocence is difficult to come by, and one that makes this movie one to remember, and definitely one to be recommended.