Summary: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl revolves around a teenage boy named Gary Gaines (Thomas Mann) who makes film parodies with his business partner (not “friend”) Earl (Ronald Cyler II). With his mother’s insistence, he strikes up a friendship with a girl named Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.
My Review: In my view, this film sort of belongs in two camps. It completes the “Cancer Girl” trilogy, joining last year’s hit The Fault in Our Stars and the underrated My Sister’s Keeper. However, while those two films were box office successes, Me and Earl has yet to earn back its budget. With the film already available for home viewing, it doesn’t look like this film will be the success it deserves to be. So, this film is also in the same company as 2007’s Rocket Science and Short Term 12: Critically acclaimed independent films aimed towards young people that unfortunately didn’t get the mainstream popularity they deserved. This is my long and overly complicated way of saying: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a great film that deserves so much more than what it’s been given. Yes, sometimes the movie swims in its own pretensions. At a few points, the movie is literally saying “This movie isn’t your AVERAGE love story/movie about sickness.” So many movies are trying to be ironic and self-aware and “different,” that it’s not particularly original anymore. The Fault in Our Stories falls into this same trap.
However, Me and Earl still contains so many earnest, genuine moments, that I can overlook the two or three moments when the movie tries to be cool. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the humor. I appreciate that, despite the dark subject matter, the move isn’t afraid to be funny and irreverent and quirky. That humor allowed the movie to be thoroughly enjoyable, it kept my attention, and it made the truly dramatic moments really stand out. I will always love both the movie and book The Fault in Our Stars, but I think Me and Earl did a better job balancing the tear jerking moments with highlighting the ridiculousness and quirkiness of life. I definitely plan on checking out the book.
Performance Spotlight: This movie has a really strong cast. The trio of young actors work extremely well together, but I’m going to throw my support towards the movie’s lead Thomas Mann. This is the first performance I’ve seen from him. This is a complicated character, and in the wrong hands, he could come across as being unlikable. But to the credit of the writer Jesse Andrews and the director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (who was also a director for the short lived FOX drama Red Band Society) and Mann, the character came across as being engaging and relatable.
Favorite Scene: Without giving too much away, there is a pretty intense scene between Gary and Earl towards the end that I found both unfortunate and hilarious.
Awards?: The film did decently at the Film Festival circuit, most notably winning a Sundance Grand Jury prize. In terms of the Oscars, films like Whiplash, Beasts of Southern Wild, and Precious (all movies with a young protagonists) have ended up doing well at the Oscars after winning the Grand Jury Prize. However, other films like Fruitvale Station and Like Crazy couldn’t maintain buzz after winning Sundance’s biggest prize. Clearly, Sundance isn’t a reliable predictor of Oscar bait. Realistically, it would be nice for the film to at least pick up an Adapted Screenplay nomination, but, nowadays, it’s hard to get a Screenplay nomination, without a Best Picture nomination. So, it would take a miracle for that to happen. If The Oscars wouldn’t bite The Fault in Our Stars, then I don’t think the lower grossing soul sister can do better.
Other Thoughts: It was hard to choose a “Spotlight Performance” because this cast is truly amazing. Nick Offerman (who has appeared in supporting roles of many independent films while starring in Parks and Rec) and Connie Britton play Greg’s parents. Molly Shannon plays the mother of Rachel; and she’s surprisingly hilarious for a role that would usually be more depressing and dour. RJ Cyler plays Earl in what is undoubtedly a breakout role for him. Bobbe J. Thompson (y’know, Stanley from That’s So Raven) is pretty much unrecognizable as Earl’s brother (I mean, I literally have not seen him since That’s So Raven). Matt Bennett (from Victorious) is also pretty unrecognizable in this movie. And Olivia Cooke plays Rachel. I know her as Emma from Bates Motel, a character who has cystic fibrosis. I also always confuse her for Maia Mitchell. Seriously, those 2 look and sound the same. Nonetheless, Cooke is obviously another stand out here.
I really hope this movie does well with awards. It’s not fair that Juno is the first and last independent quirky comedy-drama about a teenager to win and Oscar. Open your eyes, voters!!!