Recognition with characters is often an intangible asset for any film in any industry. This is perhaps why there is an odd charm to coming-of-age films, even the not-so-good ones. We see ourselves in these characters, misfits or outcasts as they may be and even as we may rue the characters they may be, we root for them to emerge all grown up by the end of it all. Whether it be The Breakfast Club, Almost Famous or the more recent, The Spectacular Now, the genre has more often than not stuck to this template of characterization (Although, Rushmore was a wonderful exception). Sundance favourite ‘Me and Earl and The Dying Girl’ is one of the former, which remains its witty and charming self despite the obvious influences that drive the film.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (Hereinafter called as METDG, for the sake of brevity) is the story of a Greg Gaines, a non-conformist senior at High School, who has problems with identification and making friends. The closest person he has to one is Earl, a friend co-worker who is Greg’s partner in producing low-budget short films. Enter Rachel; a once-childhood friend of Greg’s who is now diagnosed with Leukemia. Thus follows, is a story of doomed friendship complete with crazy shorts, pillow-talk and a great bit of wit and charm.
WOOS: I know what many of you must be thinking. The Fault in Our Stars, right? No. Other than the diagnosis of one of its protagonists, and the coming-of-age parallel which is consistent with every other film, METDG is not The Fault in Our Stars. Whereas that John Green adaptation was schmaltzy and sappy (Not without its merits though), METDG chooses a much funnier, and a lighter vein to reflect its own views on adolescence, friendship and death. It has heart, oodles of it and is undeniably fresh to look at; whether it is the stop-motion animation or the sheer visual aesthetic that seems to channel the great Wes Anderson, METDG brings some distinct originality and flavour to the genre.
METDG would also find a lot of admirers in film-geeks like me. From the Criterion collection of films Greg and Earl keep, to the shorts that are undeniably hilarious spoofs of the same, the influences of cinema’s best are hard to miss. Director Rejon used to work with Scorcese, and the same is reflected in much of the film. But, there is also Herzog, Polanski, Lumet, Kurosawa and Kubrick, among others to Rejon’s film. Clearly, this is a guy who has been to film school.
The acting additionally, is top-notch. Not only from the titular trio of Mann, Cyler and Cooke who have some great scenes together but, also from the great, quirksome supporting cast that includes Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal. Someone must really give that casting director a pat on the back. Oh, and Olivia Cooke is really pretty.
MEHS: The winner of Sundance’s grand jury prize doesn’t come without its own faults though. Well-intended as it may be, the emotive range of the film never quite reaches the depths as it was meant to. Like its protagonist who uses humour to cover his emotional insecurities, METDG uses its charm to skip over how shallow it sometimes sounds. It never quite fully realizes the fresh voice it wanted to find, which is a shame actually.
Another issue with the film is the many influences that drive this little film. There is nothing particularly wrong with having cinema’s biggest influences inspire most of the film but, there is a fine line between homage and obsessive listing. Often, METDG comes off as the latter. There are Anderson’s aesthetic, and there are Cronenberg’s psychedelics but, there arises a distinct inconsistency when such different styles come together.
VERDICT: Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is not perfect by any means, not by a long shot. But, it has a rare streak of wit, charm and brief thoughtfulness that should be made time for. Watch this film. You may not watch it another time but, you’ll probably be glad you saw it the first time.
I give it a 3/5.