Me, Earl and The Dying Girl– 4/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

me earl and the dying girlMe, Earl and the Dying Girl – 4/5 – Coming of age films are some of the most fun, dynamic and heartfelt stories to be told on the big screen.  Even for their redundancies, what makes them so special are the stories they tell.  They are relevant (in a sense), that makes you feel as if you’re watching your own memories on screen.   Most use typical clichés of teenage life, romance, family and overall antics of the social aura of the day.   Even when film generalities come out, you can still get an experience that touches you.  That would be the case for this film right here.  A story based around the typical ‘boy and girl’; it takes a different approach that creates an experience that’s both familiar and heartfelt.  Me, Earl and The Dying Girl is a coming of age film that will have you feeling what it the world ‘life’ truly means to growing up.

Premise: A high school boy (Greg) is forced into befriending a classmate (Rachel) who was diagnosed with cancer.  As the story unfolds, both learn something of themselves, while also facing the inevitable future of what it means to live.

At the heart of this film are the three teenagers.  You have:

Thomas Mann as Greg

RJ Cyler as Earl

Olivia Cooke as Rachel

Greg is that teenage boy you find in most of these kinds of films.  Social awkward and a loner; Thomas Mann creates a character that is built on the ideal ‘ho hum’ personality.  The depth of his character isn’t in his individual traits, but how they are pulled at with the relationship that is formed with Rachel.  He is forced into having some kind of friendship with Rachel because she is diagnosing with cancer.   Rachel is ‘part’ of some clique Greg created (in his mind), but is just as socially awkward as him.  Olivia Cooke creates a character that is just a complimentary to Greg.  These two leads of this guy/girl tandem build upon the idea of the ‘teenager’ archetypes, but take you on a different approach.  You get to see a unique kind of friendship created, one that is built upon the ideas of what life is about.  You get to see a complexion of two characters that struggle with what this disease is, while also facing their ideas of just living.  This brings out the deeper layers of their emotional state/psyche.  A lot of the play on the archetypes is directional focused (explained later), but it would never have worked if the acting wasn’t as raw, creating a relationship that felt real.  The authentic appeal in their friendship creates a slow burn sensation, as you watch them match their sarcastic personalities word for word.  There are very comical highs and dramatic lows, but in the overall scheme you feel the fragile heart that develops.   Another aspect of this ‘budding’ friendship is the third character in the friendship, Earl.  He is Greg’s ‘Co-worker’ but that means best friend.  RJ Cyler creates the typical ‘side kick’ archetype, but he does it in a way that is charming and blunt.  That original spin in his personality creates an aspect with Greg that makes you see ‘light and day’.  They are friends with the same inkling with life, even if they come from different backgrounds.  There ‘best friend’ creation puts into focus a dynamic in the three that stirs up more intriguing twist to the meaning of friendship and growing up.  For the rest of the cast, you have a lot of know names in smaller roles (Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal and Molly Shannon).  They play second fiddle to the three main leads, adding to the ‘background’ creation of the world created in this film.  You have the awkward parents, cool teacher and the one-dimensional caricatures of teenagers in an American high school.    They are very cliché when it comes to this genre of film, but their presence is built on a unique realism that grounds the experience.  This breaks the ‘one-dimensional’ cord and adds to the believable factor in the film.

The direction goes down a traditional linear path.  This is a coming of age tale with some original spins, but it still plays on the archetypes you find in most of in this genre.  You have your typical ‘boy/girl’ that is of a ‘certain age’ that is faced with some ‘dilemma’ that creates a journey that changes them for the better.   In a sense, the film is very generic when it comes to the backbone of the overall sense.  Where the difference occurs is (ironically) within the story that is created.  The ‘original spin’ is predicated mostly on character driven elements. The film does start off with the following:

Greg is your typical teenage boy who is the socially awkward and a loner, but friends with everyone.   He gets along with everyone, which makes him invisible to all the cliques.  His exuberance for life is at a ‘ho hum’ pace, which his mom feels it necessary to change.   He is forced into hanging out with Rachel, who has just recently been diagnosed with cancer.

The drive of the character takes the direction of this story, and plays it in a very satirical aspect on how each of them views social norms, life and acceptance.  Through the first two acts, you have a lot of great elements of social ambiguity, friendship antics and life themes.  This is brought out through the ‘character’ focus of the direction.  The characters help create a thematic presence that is whimsical within its tone, built upon awkward dialogue and imaginative visuals.  As the film progresses, it plays with the typical backbone in a sense of ‘realistic’ perception.  You get to see how the relationship between Greg and Rachel brings to the front a lot of what they try to hide.  There is a fragile state in both these characters, and it is drowns out the predictable nature of the story and lets you feel their ‘moments’.   Adding the extra element of Greg’s best friend Earl, the school teacher, school cliques and odd-like parents; the layers of each of them peels back a deeper aspect of who they are, and what they feel will be a real outcome of their relationship.  A lot of the banter is blunt, satirical and modern.  This is blended well with the imagery each of them has in life, creating another aspect to the dialogue.  It is both witty and smart, as the script plays on their characters as well as social themes.  You idolize this kind of focal spin as it creates an original spectrum of this typical tale.  It brings in a mirror for the audience, knowing that with subtle strokes, it is a reflection of your own life.  Once you get to the third act, the film takes ‘predictable’ turns.  The good thing is that it’s not ‘melo-dramatic’, and it is left to the characters to paint the inevitable.  It’s touching, odd but emotional; one that makes you see how fate forces individuals to confront purpose.  Once the climax hits, you are all but certain of what will happen, but enjoy the epiphanies each of them have found, as you see what Greg has become from his relationship with Rachel.   That growth comes with some pain, but it’s understandable when the epilogue and credits roll.

The visuals are built on aesthetic appeal.  You have your suburban neighborhood with the high school, homes and obvious ‘hangouts’ for teenagers.  The one good thing is that there ‘basic’ draw helps added to the grounding appeal of the film.    The score is mute at best, only hitting its mark in ‘important’ scenarios in the film.

Me, Earl and The Dying Girl is a coming of age tale that can make you think about your life, but also creates an experience that is original in its typical concept.  If you’re a fan of indie flicks, coming of age tales or want to see something that will make you ‘feel’ good, this is one for you.  You will have a good time at the theaters with this one.

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