Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is an outsider in high school that has figured out a system to get though to higher education. He does not join any of the cliques but will engage members of the various high school cliques jumping in on short conversations to orbit on the perimeter of every group.  The only place he does not venture is the cafeteria Greg calls it a war zone, chaos and the waring factions of the Middle East all rolled up into one. Greg spends his lunch hour in the office of his favourite teacher Mr. McCarthy (Jim Bernthal) along with his "co-worker" Earl Jackson (RJ Cyler) who is really his best friend but Greg does not want to admit that he has any friends.

Greg's detached high school life is going well until his mother (Connie Britton) sends him to visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke) a friend he was closer to in grade school who has just been diagnosed with advanced cancer. Greg goes reluctant at first but begins to enjoy the time he spends hanging out with Rachel. Greg and Earl make parody films and though encouragement of popular girl  Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) start to make a film for Rachel.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon film based on Jesse Andrew's book and screenplay finds a new angle to tell a high school based tale. The subject matter is dire as evidence by the title but the dialogue is rich and the characters well developed to bring humour tenderness tension and sorrow to the production. Gomez- Rejon keeps the camera moving to produce several different visual levels to the film. On particularly highly charged scene is shot from a very low angle with one character in the foreground while the other stands behind. Another where Rachel, Greg and Earl go for ice cream is one of the lighter passages in the film and shot totally opposite employing a crane from up on high.

The film has a couple of running gags that work well.  The first is Greg narration of the proceeding overt opening each new chapter with This is the part where... One might think that this could get annoying or tiresome but it really works mainly due to Greg's understated flat and somewhat perpetually uninterested tone. The other are the Greg and Earl mini movies. They are mainly knock off of classic cinema in the style of European documentary that Greg's dad (Nick Offerman) introduced pair to in their youth. The films with titles like A Sockwork Orange, My Dinner with Andre the Giant and 2:48 Cowboy (Instead of Midnight) are laugh out loud funny just on the titles alone but the bonus of seeing Greg and Earl dressed up as these iconic screen characters adds to the hilarity. Other titles in the collected works include Grumpy Cul-de Sacs a send up of Gomez- Rejon's mentor Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Senior Citizen Kane. The shorts are shown as little snippets sprinkled thought the film.

Casting director Angela Demo helped gather a strong ensemble cast. Connie Britton and Molly Shannon both take the non traditional approach to the their roles as mothers of Greg and Rachel respectively. Thomas Mann shines in the role of Greg. He is the central focus of the film and maintains the detached uninvolved persona through most of the production but shifts gears seamlessly for two key emotional encounters with each of the other title characters. RT Cyler makes his major screen debut as Earl. At the outset his character seems to be nothing out of the ordinary until he makes the point of showing Greg the importance of his relationship with Rachel. British Actress Olivia Clark know for her work on Bates Motel makes brings an edge to the role of the seriously ill high school student.  Clark is at her strongest when she makes a stand on how she wants to handle her treatment. Jim Berthal continues his streak of very strong roes as Greg and Earl's favourite teacher Mr. Murphy ending most classes and encounters with students in the halls with the mantra Respect the Research.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a high school film with a strong emotional side. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon draws out solid performances from his cast and the screenplay allows several light and funny moments despite the inherent sad and draining storyline the viewer will expect given the title. The interaction between the characters and quirks of the plot make the production a film that will appeal to kids and adults alike. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Me and earl and the Dying Girl | Alfonso Gomez- Rejon | U.S.A. | 2015| 105 Minutes.

Tags: High School , Cliques,  Fitting In, Survival, Cancer, Friendship, Cafeteria, Francesca, Mini-Movie.

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