Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl review

A big hit with Sundance viewers, and indeed film goers all over the world so far, I review this coming-of-age cancer teen story. Sound familiar? Think again! Hit the jump for more...

I admit; I feel a bit jaded against films with premises like the one in MAEATDG (as it shall now be known!). They seem far too constructed; a cash grab with the promise of toying with your emotions. Take, for example, last years entirely despicable the Fault in Our Stars. Now here was a film with a terrible, predictable story; a sloppy cliche ridden concept, and absolutely no style whatsoever. Yet it was a box office success. Why? Because lots of little teen girls paid lots of money to go and cry at said travesty. Well, I'm pleased to say that the above film is not, in any way, like that.

The dying girl, me and Earl......
We start with an interesting doorway shot. I suppose it sets the tone nicely, showing that this film WILL have style in abundance. We also get a sense of who exactly Greg is (our main protagonist). Through an amusing, well filmed, and whimsical few minutes (in which the film is not afraid to totally take the piss out of the Fault in our Stars), we learn about how he alienates himself from everyone in order to stay invisible. He has commitment issues, and is self deprecating. His only true friend is referred to as his 'coworker'. This is a reference to the various parody films they make, with exceedingly catchy titles (such as 'A Sockwork Orange', 'Senior Citizen Kane' and '2:45pm Cowboy').

The plot drops on us pretty fast: all of a sudden, Greg's mum is telling us that Rachael (the girl down the street) has been diagnosed with Leukemia. What is Leukemia? Earl asks. The cancer of the something.... is his answer. You see, usually I go through these reviews in a step by step procedure, one I just kinda made up as I go along. So this would be the part where I tell you about the plot. That's a hard one here.... if I were to describe the basic plot, it would be this: Greg talks to Rachael and makes films. It's not exactly dynamite. But what this film is about is discovering oneself; coming of age; dealing with setbacks; managing friendships; and just generally growing older. There's a conspicuous lack of sex commonly found in these types of movies (noted in a couple of voiceovers), drugs (although one scene is rather hilarious), or rock and roll. I suppose it's rather like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with terminal illness.

The two 'coworkers' on the set of their next masterpiece...
The acting is never less than superb. We follow Greg around everywhere, and thus he must be a character we can believe in. Not only does the camera never leave his presence, we see his writing, listen to his inner thoughts, and are - to all intents and purposes - eavesdropping on an essay/story that he is writing. So yeah, it's a big job. And Thomas Mann does it perfectly (yep, THAT Thomas Mann, the one from THAT terrible house - party film). He is believable, and a true character to the audience. RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke are also great co-stars that add the comedy and emotion (respectively) into the mix.

As I've stated before, this film is a heavy stylistic exercise: wonderful camera angles prove to be the centrepeice of the storyline, and the 'films' Greg and Earl make are more than a side-line affair. On top of this, I frequently noticed the lighting to be of exceptional quality (especially in a spoiler scene that I can't disclose here!). As many other reviewers have noted, the use of cliche commenting by our protagonist is often effective, as is the use of humorous titles, and a very clever plot device that I once again can't tell you about. The soundtrack is also suitably epic: understated and background, yet filled with emotion and whimsy; the perfect accompaniment to such a film.

'Cause every film needs a comedy cat...
However, it does come with it's disadvantages. At points, I felt Greg (as a concept), was not a character I could fully feel pain for. I mean, he's a white middle class, reasonably well off, intelligent male with no real problems to begin with. Only in a film made for white, middle class males can this elicit any sort of response. At other times the  cancer story feels like an excuse for interesting titles and whimsy, which is never right. And, of course, being a self aware film it falls into the trap of such - it comments on cliches whilst also succumbing to them.

So all in all, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a funny, well filmed, and unusual drama that seriously merits viewing. However, it is hampered by giving precedence to style, and not quite surpassing the cliches it attempts to comment on.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl gets 4 stars!

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