"I'm not here because I pity you, I'm actually here because my mom's making me."The Sundance film festival is amazingly seductive in the way that it chooses films that are coming out many, many months from when they are given their prestigious prizes. Last year I had to endure months of hearing how great ‘Whiplash’ was before I ever got to see it. The same thing is happening here with this year’s winner ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’. So can it live up to expectations?
Two young and aspiring filmmakers in high school Greg and Earl (Thomas Mann and RJ Tyler befriend a girl called Rachel (Olivia Cooke) under the request Greg's mom as she has been diagnosed with terminal Leukaemia.
That may sound like the plot of any teen romance trying to exploit the recent craze of ill-fated romances kicked off by ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (at least it’s much better than the ‘Twilight’ craze). But ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ becomes so much more. There are a number of obscure performances that simply get it right. That’s the best way of putting it as there’s no particular stand out (not even Nick Offerman from ‘Parks and Recreation) but there’s nothing to fault and normally that may be a criticism, but these understated roles and characters add to the overall tone of the film and make the situation more believable and engaging.
As is the fashion now the author of the bestselling book has adapted his own work for the big screen, Jesse Andrews. The writing in question is sharp, quick witted and excellently balances many elements such as satire, adolescent friendship, gut punching emotion and a love of movies. The best thing a coming of age drama can do is balance these elements to form something that can only be called a coming of age drama as there’s nothing else that it fits into. This movie could have been bogged down with self-pity for its subject matter, or risk treading too lightly and not covering the necessary ground to offer any emotional depth.
Another remarkable aspect of ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ is how it avoids every cliché despite the tools it deploys throughout such as narration, social ineptitude and some kind of affliction. Perhaps that is a result of the characterisation of Greg, our central character. He exists partly as your standard teenager, using the clichés, participating in them and existing through them, but also playing against them in his own arthouse projects. The result is the sublime mixed with the quirky and it’s not just the way to two play against each other that is commendable, but how one tone slips effortlessly into another and by the end you’re not sure if they are playing off of a chestnut or inventing one.
It’s hard to believe that the last film I saw her in was the terrible ‘Ouija’ but Olivia Cooke is magnificent in this film as the self-described dying girl, Rachel. She balances an amazing mix of humour and heartfelt emotion to make her character truly believable, aside from the most obvious characteristic of having only a short time left to live, she has her own personality that flourished and is evident in Cooke’s performance, and yet it never lets you forget that elephant in the room.
The fact that Greg and Earl are lovers of cinema only makes the film more enjoyable for someone like me. Together they aspire to make their own movies, centring around a satirical and parodic nature. To give you an idea I can just list some of the titles they work on ‘ The Rad Shoes’, ‘Senior Citizen Kane’, ‘A Sockwork Orange’.
It’s easy to look at a film like this and concentrate only on the down, weighty and emotional. But there are underlying oddities and moments of laughter that are savoured and celebrated, because you know that they’re numbered.