Film Reviews

VIEWTIFUL DRE – <i>Me and Earl and the Dying Girl</i> (2015)

VIEWTIFUL DRE – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Andre Cole

July 21st, 2015

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High school can be a miserable experience for many people, even when you aren’t dealing with sudden emotional trauma. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl captures that difficulty, and does so with a lot of heart as it follows Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) through his senior year of high school. Greg follows the standard high-school-boy trope of wanting to be invisible, becoming a chameleon who can blend in with any clique he wants. As such, he has only one real friend, Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg is even reluctant to call Earl his friend, referring to him throughout the film as his “co-worker.” The pair fancy themselves amateur filmmakers, creating parodies of classic films like A Clockwork Orange and The Conversation, but they never show them to anyone, out of fear of embarrassment.

At the beginning of the school year, Greg finds out from his mother that his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, and his mother is adamant that he spends time with her to make her feel better. Their friendship begins awkwardly, as neither one knows each other well and are being pushed together by their mothers. Earl decides that he and Greg should show Rachel some of the movies they make, much to Greg’s dismay. After seeing who the duo really are through their goofy films Rachel grows much more open and friendly towards Greg. Rachel gives Greg a lot of support as he deals with standard high school problems: not having a prom date or deciding whether or not to go to college. Upon learning of Greg and Earl’s penchant for filmmaking, another classmate suggests that they make a film for Rachel, which leads to an incredible amount of stress for Greg as he neglects school work to create something perfect for her.

This is the second feature film from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, following last year’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Gomez-Rejon, who cut his teeth on television shows like American Horror Story and Glee, does an excellent job conveying Greg and Earl’s amateur filmmaking abilities through little snippets from their projects. There is so much style in each one, and none of them looks the same, whether the realizations are simple or complex. In the rest of the film, high school is portrayed as almost a bizzaro world where the hallways upon entering the school look warped, and the raucous cafeteria almost begins to resemble the war-torn regions to which Greg compares it. The shots outside of the school all feel very natural and follow the movement of the action, perhaps contrasting how Greg feels inside and outside of school.

Greg ends up being the greatest weakness in the film. That is no fault of Mann, who delivers an excellent performance as the socially maladjusted teen. Moments in which Greg is able to shelve his teenage angst reveal a clever, funny young man. All of that ends up being a front to obscure his real emotions, though. This is most apparent when Rachel tells him to write a college application essay and he adopts a Werner Herzog accent while he narrates it. Later in the film, Greg merely comes across as your typical angsty teen confronted with something he cannot control. This is made even more evident when you consider the colorful characters who surround him, like Earl and Rachel. These characters end up driving Greg towards a change, but by the time it comes around, I was much more interested in what Earl was doing. In fact, I would watch an entire movie about Earl, his brother, and their dog.

The movie compensates for Greg’s flatness somewhat with its supporting cast, which includes Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal, and Matt Bennett, each of whom brings their own unique flair to their scenes, which offer light-hearted reprieves from the main story, and their characters offer valuable guidance to Greg as he tries to cope with a dying friend. Cooke appears as if she was born to play the part of Rachel. Her stoic nature stands in stark contrast to Greg, who at times, can’t keep his mouth shut as he tries to process things. It would have been nice if Earl and Rachel had received more screen time to flesh out their characters. They’re referenced in the title, so it’s unfortunate that they don’t come across as important as Greg, though perhaps it shouldn’t come across as a surprise since he is the white male of the group.

Unlike some similar films that have come out recently, the film doesn’t focus on the difficulties of cancer, but it doesn’t dismiss them either. We see Rachel getting sick and losing her hair because of chemo, but beyond a few moments, the filmmakers pay little attention to the details of cancer. Instead of loading up tearjerker moments throughout the film by focusing on a romantic subplot, the early portions are largely humor -based with a slow, barely noticeable transition into the more dramatic elements of the film as it enters its second and third acts.  Despite its somber tone in the later moments, however, the film ends up feeling more like a celebration of life rather than a funeral.

Andre Cole is a junior at the University of Oregon, pursuing a degree in public relations. He likes to divide his time between video games, movies, and friends, sometimes combining all three. Viewtiful Dre is an irregular column in which he provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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