Given my past experiences with the horrific disease, I’m one person that finds the deus ex machina of cancer unbearable. It is often done tastelessly, depicting it’s sufferers as people without autonomy or regarded with the self-respect that they deserve – cancer patients are people, not pawns that should be used to explain a protagonist enlightening epiphany about the world. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Jesse Andrews’ teen coming of age story, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does not adhere to these stereotypes; instead, it approaches cancer from a reverent space where we can fully understand the experience of cancer without glamorising or glorifying it.
Based on Jesse Andrews’ novel of the same title, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), an awkward and self-deprecating high school student, as he is forced to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Greg’s ‘coworker’ that he has known since he was five, Earl (R.J. Cyler) joins the pair, and together, him and Greg endeavour to create a short film for Rachel in an attempt to help her cope with the treatment she undergoes. What we see here is an commendation of cinematic history; Greg and Earl spend their time creating parodies of classic films (my personal favourite being ‘A Sockwork Orange’ and ‘The Janitor of Oz’), capturing the cinephile to a tee.
This is not your typical coming of age story however. Me and Earl has a raw comedic value to it; it’s self-deprecating protagonist and narrator acting as a vehicle through which the audience gains an authentic, unconventional, and stunning portrayal of friendship. The film is incredibly self aware – at one point Greg explicitly speaks to the audience, informing them not to worry, that Rachel does not die at the end of this film as we might suspect. As we are faced with her death in one of the final scenes, we learn this to be false. But Greg apologises to us, explaining that he really wanted to believe that she would live through this ordeal, reflecting the audience’s feelings.
So too, the casting in this film allows for the theme of friendship and love to be fully explored. A special mention here goes out to Nick Offerman who plays Greg’s dad, a sociology professor that enjoys eating weird cuisines and patting his cat. Molly Shannon is equally excellent as Rachel’s worried, wine-guzzling, and inappropriate sexual mother.
In the first hour of this film, audience members around me were laughing to the point of tears captured by Greg’s unique voice. However, the last half hour was filled with genuine tears, people attempting to sob quietly into their tissues, not realising how loud they actually were.
This is the first film in a very long time that I have felt a real personal attachment to, finding that it has stayed with me long after the credits have rolled. Sure, there’s an obvious correlation with 50/50 and The Fault In Our Stars, but what really sets Me and Earl apart is how it uses it’s unique voice to capture the way in which cancer affects people; Sometimes it isn’t all tears and drama – sometimes cancer is something that only humour can cure.
With its beautifully shot scenes, clever plays on typical coming-of-age tropes, and original and heart-wrenching approach to an extremely sensitive topic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has found a place in my top ten films of all time; I adore it with the strength of a thousand burning suns. To say that you have to see this film is a gross understatement. What I’ll say is this – you haven’t seen cinema at it’s finest until you’ve seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Review score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
For a one disc Blu-Ray edition, this release is crammed full of fantastic features. There is a highly insightful, almost 40 minute feature called “This is Where You Learn How The Film Was Made”, broken into three parts. It talks about filming the story in script order, finding the actors, the actors finding the characters, filming in Pittsburgh and much more.
The film itself has a much welcome audio commentary from Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, which provides even more insight into the film. There’s 6 deleted / alternate scenes (with or without commentary), an on set photo gallery, a couple of trailers, the entire “Abstract” film that’s screened at the film’s denouement (that music will get you every time…), as well as five minutes of clips from Greg and Earl Productions.
But the stand out for the release is a 30 minute sit down conversation between Director Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. I won’t spoil anything here as to why they’re sitting down, but let’s just say the stories they tell will excite any film fan out there. It’s a must watch.
Special Features Score: FOUR AND A HALF STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Film Review by Alexandra Koster. Special Features review by Larry Heath.