Thursday, April 28, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the story of a high school senior who befriends a girl suffering from leukemia as he calls on the help of a friend to make her life a little better. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and written by Jesse Andrews, the film is an exploration into death as well as a young man trying to find meaning in his young life with the aid of this dying young woman. Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, and Connie Britton. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a heartwarming and witty film from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

The film revolves around a jaded high school senior who is forced by his mother to spend time with a leukemia-stricken classmate of his where the two become friends and bring another friend into the circle. It’s a film with a simple story but it is largely told from this young man named Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) who is trying to write his college essay as he talks about the time he spent with this young girl named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who tries to cope with her ailment. Even as he would eventually try to make a film for her with the help of his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) who would also befriend Rachel. Jesse Andrews’ script is told in a reflective narrative as Gaines tries to write his college acceptance essay which is largely about his time with Rachel and being her friend.

Even as it explores Gaines’ own unwillingness to socialize with other students as he has trouble fitting in while he and Earl share a love of watching classic art-house/auteur-based cinema where their parodies of those films is something Rachel would enjoy. Earl is sort of the film’s conscience in the film though his commentary on things including lots of things about women’s breasts make him an odd but an endearing one since he really does care. Gaines is someone who is just unsure of himself as someone who is full of self-loathing in his belief that he couldn’t do anything right where Rachel would mark a change of direction for him. Yet, he keeps wondering if he’s going to make things worse just as Rachel’s own health is failing which prompts to question his own self and his own reasons into what he wants to do with his life.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s direction is very simple not just in terms of the compositions but also in the way he creates a story that is simple and makes it more rich and extraordinary that it already is. Shot largely in an anamorphic format, Gomez-Rejon’s approach to shooting to shooting the school as well as various locations in and near Pittsburgh would give the film a lot to say visually. Even in the way he would put his actors into a frame where one would be in the foreground and the other in the background or would just go for a simple medium shot during a scene where Gaines, Rachel, and Earl are eating popsicles. The film parodies that Gaines and Earl would make not only have something that is amateurish but also with a sense of charm where the two put their own spin on classic films including the ones by Stanley Kubrick, Francois Truffaut, and Werner Herzog. Especially the one Gaines would make as it was created with the help of stop-motion animators Edward Bursch and Nathan O. Marsh as it would serve as the film’s climax for what Gaines would do for Rachel. Overall, Gomez-Rejon crafts a touching yet lively film about a high school senior trying to help a dying young girl.

Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung does brilliant work with the cinematography from not just the look of the classrooms and lunch room but also in the way much of the daytime interior/exteriors are lit as well as some unique lighting for some scenes set at night. Editor David Trachtenberg does excellent work with the editing as it has a lot of style with its jump-cuts and other stylish cut to play into the humor and some of the drama. Production designer Gerald Sullivan, with set decorator Diana Stoughton and art director Sarah M. Pott, does fantastic work with the look of the rooms that Gaines and Rachel had to express their personalities as well as the DVD store Gaines and Earl often go to where they show a lot of art films. Costume designer Jennifer Eve does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with bits of style to express the personality of the many characters in the film.

Visual effects supervisor Zared Shai does terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects that include a few things in the home movies Gaines and Earl make. Sound designer Jacob Ribicoff does superb work with the sound in the way the lunchroom sounds as well as the way the movies are being heard on TV or on a laptop. The film’s music by Brian Eno and Nico Muhly is amazing as it features some soft, ambient pieces from the latter while the former would contribute music from some of albums ranging from experimental rock to ambient pieces while music supervisor Randall Poster would create a soundtrack that doesn’t just feature Eno’s music but also score pieces from composers like Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, David Shire, Wendy Carlos, and Jean Constantin and music from other films by Harry Nilsson, Explosions in the Sky, Ra Ra Riot, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, and Roy Orbison.

The casting by Angela Demo is great as it features some notable small roles from Bobb’e J. Thompson as Earl’s older brother Derrick who doesn’t really like Gaines, Matt Bennett as the Goth kid Scott Mayhew, Masam Holden as the wannabe rapper Ill Phil, Edward DeBruce III as the young Earl, Gavin Dietz as the young Gaines, and Katherine C. Hughes in a wonderful performance as Gaines’ crush in Madison who would give Gaines the idea to make a film for Rachel despite his own reluctance to. Jon Bernthal is terrific as Gaines’ history teacher who would let him and Earl eat lunch at his office while watching classic film as he would give Gaines some very wise advice but death and what can be learned afterwards. Molly Shannon is fantastic as Rachel’s mother Denise who is a very sweet woman that is going through a lot as she also display a vulnerability as she copes with what she might lose.

Connie Britton and Nick Offerman are excellent as Gaines’ parents with the former as the one who would make Greg see Rachel and telling him to think about his future while the latter is an eccentric who likes to watch classic films while feeding his son and Earl some strange food. RJ Cyler is amazing in his film debut as Earl as this kid who says a lot of weird things yet is sort of the film’s conscience as this kid from the streets that is very kind and patient to Rachel while getting Gaines to deal with his own faults. Olivia Cooke is brilliant as Rachel as a teenager stricken with leukemia as she tries to deal with the seriousness of her illness while finding comfort in the presence of Gaines and Earl as she would also confront the former about his own worth as a person. Finally, there’s Thomas Mann in a marvelous performance as Greg Gaines as this jaded high school senior who is forced by his mother to hang out with Rachel where he tries to cope with her illness and ways to make her feel better where he is forced to deal with his own self-loathing and feelings about the ways of the world.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an incredible film from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Featuring a great cast, a compelling premise, and a sensational film soundtrack, the film is a witty yet engaging story that explores life and death from the views of teenagers as well as the ideas of the world itself. In the end, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a phenomenal film from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

© thevoid99 2016


Brittani Burnham said...

I liked this movie a lot more than I expected too. The teens in it felt so different from what I'm used to. I also cried like a baby back bitch at the end of it. lol

Dell said...

Still need to watch this one. I've been close to seeing it several times, but always chose something else at the last minute. Soon, I hope.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-This was a real surprise as I fell in love with it as it was imaginative but also moving as it's one of 2 films in the past week that I really enjoyed.

@Wendell-Don't miss it. It's really worth something of your time. Especially for RJ Cyler's performance.

Big Screen Small Words said...

I liked this movie, though I wish that RJ Cyler had more scenes. I prefer this over the book, as Greg's attitude in the book makes him sound more like a kid rather than a teen.

thevoid99 said...

@Big Screen Small Words-I wanted more of RJ Cyler as well as I really liked him a lot in that film. I heard he's going to be in that show Vice Principals so that is something to look forward to.

Zach Murphy said...

Great review. I get emotional just thinking about this film.

thevoid99 said...

@Zach Murphy-Thank you. It's one of those films that knows how to do things right as I think more people should see it.