Guards armed with night vision goggles and a meagerly filled theater awaited me at an extremely advanced screening of a movie I’d never even heard of. What happened next was one of the greatest surprises of the year.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (despite its unfortunate mouthful of a title) could be one of the most refreshing takes on teenage angst in the last couple years.
The film’s narrative is conventional: Boy meets girl, girl gets sick and thus they become the center of each other’s universes. But, like the main character Greg boldly states, it is not a love story and they don’t fall for each other. Greg is honest with the viewers from the get-go (well, for the most part without giving away spoilers) and this honesty is what the film achieves so tremendously.
I don’t want to call honesty one of the film’s themes, but it is so crucial and underlines every success, specifically in three ways: dialogue, characters and the actors chosen to be those characters. All three blend into beautiful harmony, making this little film stand so tall. “Snappy” is an insufficient adjective for the dialogue; this dialogue soars, flows and catches every tone without missing a beat. Every single character fills the screen with color, no matter how small their part is, especially The Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal, who plays a history teacher. And as far as acting talent goes, the list is full of pleasantly surprising big names. The two young leads — Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke — are impressive, then enters Nick Offerman (aka Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson) playing Greg’s delightfully eccentric father.
In Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s early career, he studied under some very influential movie brat directors like Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, and this tutorship has a clear imprint on his work now. What sets Me and Earl and the Dying Girl apart from all other teen movies of today is its style. On a storyline level, Greg and his best friend Earl like to make movie spoofs — it’s their way of paying homage to directors like the French New Wave’s Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. But an unusual filmmaking style is also implemented in the overall movie itself. Every shot is jam-packed with motion and detail. The camera rarely stops moving, and when it does, that’s the more noticeable quality. The shots consistently shift from canted angles to out-of-focus long shots to disorientating rotation without seemingly any pattern to its madness. And this could have become a downfall for the film if the director had decided to push it a bit farther. But luckily, Gomez-Rejon knows when to say when.
Bringing everything into consideration, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is downright ballsy. And it practically boasts on its ballsiness without pretention. It takes cancer head on, unapologetically, and it does it in a damn-well better way than any other recent teen-cancer drama. When this film opens for wide release, last year’s The Fault in Our Stars will surely feel the chill of standing in its shadow.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the winner of Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. It is slated for theatrical release on June 12.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Xandra McMahon at email@example.com.