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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has been called “heavily hyped” by Vulture, and so it is. But it’s been heavily hyped by those who have seen it for one very good reason: it is just a superb piece of filmmaking for all the right reasons. It takes on one of the most dangerous genres in the world to master successfully—the sad, teen romantic comedy—and does so well that it is hard to think of a movie of this type you’ve ever seen that was as good. Mean Girls? Not close. Clueless? Well, maybe in the same league but at the bottom of standings. The Breakfast Club? I believe Dying Girl will stand the test of time as well as Club has, if its single flaw, its atrocious name, doesn’t sink it first. And it is much sadder than any of these three without ever being maudlin in its pathos.

Where to begin? Absolutely spectacular performances by three virtual unknowns. First, there is Thomas Mann as Greg Gaines (the “me” of the title), a geeky, friendless dork who also narrates the movie in a hilarious voice-over so well written, it rivals my favorite voice-over of all time, Morgan Freeman’s Red in The Shawshank Redemption (a movie that was sunk at the box office, I believe, by that ridiculous name). Second is Earl, played by RJ Cyler, Greg’s sidekick, equally a loner, who hangs out with Greg in their favorite teacher’s office, makes short movies with Greg, and generally debates Greg about everything. Laid back and brilliant in his portrayal of the “angry”, young black, Cyler has a great future either as an actor or a comic. And there’s Olivia Cook, as Rachel, the normal one of the three, who is helped through life’s most difficult step by her two friends and their humor, their friendship, and their love. The supporting cast carries the film from scene to scene with the all-important task of not getting in the way of the three principles, and fulfills that task admirably. Molly Shannon, as the drunk mom of Rachel, gets to do some comedy. Connie Britton, Greg’s mom, has the harder task of delivering the serious news, but the two women are both believable and sympathetic, even as they are pilloried by their teen-age children.

Next, the writing. The gags just keep on coming, fresh and laugh-out-loud funny in one of the most cliché-ridden types of movies imaginable. I can’t remember a single line feeling out of place, or flat, or too smart. Everything said and done feels perfectly natural for these three misfits, and not one scene goes on too long or should have been cut. In a movie that has the inevitability of a sad ending hanging over it from its first moments, the trick is to make the humor work without clashing with that sadness, and Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the novel, shows a remarkable ability at this, especially as a first-time screenwriter. I wish it hadn’t been six months since I saw this movie or I would relay a couple of these, but trust me: you will love it.

No review of this movie by a film-lover can be complete without mention of the task that forms the heart of the movie, Greg and Earl’s film, made for Rachel as a sign of their affection for her, when she is near the end. They have made 42 movies together, all short films, parodying famous movies from the past. The titles are without exception hilarious. My two favorites are the Hitchcock ones: Vere’d He Go? and Rear Wind. How more teen-age boy can you get?! Of course the movie is both funny and touching, just like the movie in which it is embedded. A sad, but wonderful expression of life and death as experienced by teen-agers. I can’t praise this movie enough.

Drew Trotter

June 4, 2015

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