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Sundance: ‘Me & Earl’ embraces death, teen love without saccharine

February 9th, 2015 Posted in Arts and Life

By Noelle Johansen

PARK CITY—As callous as it sounds, teenagers with cancer seem to be in vogue these days.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is the edgier, artsier version of last year’s novel-turned-blockbuster, “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Cast of ‘Me & Earl’ at Sundance. (Noelle Johansen photo)

Cast of ‘Me & Earl’ at Sundance. (Noelle Johansen photo)

Many films at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival will end up lost somewhere in the vast archives of Netflix. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” isn’t one of these. Fox Searchlight bought the film for $4.7 million.

This film is refreshing. It doesn’t give in to the Hollywood mold of teenage true love; rather it illustrates realistic relationships between friends. Emphasis on the part about illustration, as “Earl” is a work of art. From Claymation to upturned camera shots, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and his creative cinematography keep “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” moving when the plot slows down.

It’s all very meta as protagonist Greg (the “Me” of the title) and Earl are best friends and amateur filmmakers. Their methods echo the way the film itself was made, albeit less sophisticated.

RJ Cyler, who plays Earl, is new to film but almost steals the show with his deadpan sincerity and humor. Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high school senior who avoids any real interaction—negative or positive—with all other students, except for Earl. His mom coerces him to befriend his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) after she’s diagnosed with leukemia.

What follows is an honest coming-of-age story with heartfelt and sad moments sandwiched by beautiful and hilarious performances. Early on, we love Greg for his self-deprecating, dry wit, like when he tells Rachel to play dead when people say stupid things to her, and then demonstrates by flopping most corpse-like in his chair. As Greg narrates the film, his defensive outer shell slowly cracks and reveals a vulnerability that’s universally relatable.

It would be a crime to overlook performances by Nick Offerman as Greg’s hippie father, who always feeds Earl unfamiliar foreign delicacies, and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mother, who self-medicates her sadness with alcohol and becomes a flirtatious drunk.

I don’t predict blockbuster attention for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”—it’s too unique and interesting for the masses. Still, it will make its way into select hearts, the way indie cult classic “Donnie Darko” did in 2001.




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