Actors: Thomas Mann, Nick Offerman, Rj Cyler
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Run Time: 106 minutes
Finding the delicate balance between sentimental and realistic, with humor bridging the gap, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl often feels like independent cinema’s answer to films like The Fault in Our Stars. With the most expensive acquisition of any film to be bought at the Sundance Film Festival, there is a crowd-pleasing quality to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, regardless of the dark humor utilized in the cumbersome title. Try as the film might to stay away from the cliché trappings of the familiar narrative, it ultimately cheats in order to remain original as long as possible while still providing many of predictable plot points for this type of narrative. Regardless of constant assurances through voiceover, this film goes exactly where it is expected to go, even wrapping the narrative up neatly with the cliché voiceover of a letter written to a college admissions department.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon previously attempted to find the humor and melodrama in teen illness with his work on the failed TV series, “Red Band Society,” though he combines it with plenty of social awkwardness and a love of foreign cinema for his latest film. Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is a typical teenager filled with the contradiction of narcissism and low self esteem at the center of his personality. Rather than commit to any one clique in high school, Greg attempts to remain neutral by staying on pleasant terms with everyone while getting close to nobody. The exception is Earl (R.J. Cyler), a fellow lover of cinema and collaborator in creating low budget parodies with, but who he still insists on referring to as a co-worker rather than a friend.
When Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) discovers that one of his classmates named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, she insists that he visit her. Despite Greg’s unwillingness to let down his barriers out of fear and self absorption, he unsurprisingly develops a friendship with Rachel as she struggles to come to terms with her illness and suffer through the treatment. While I appreciated the unconventional decision to have Greg and Rachel remain purely plutonic, nearly everything else about the narrative inevitably falls into predictable territory.
Everything in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has been done elsewhere, and in many cases, several times over. The mostly unsentimental approach to the material is all that separates it from dozens of other similar films, though even this is shed in time for an emotionally manipulative climax. If Greg’s love of cinema leads him to a hobby of imitation, the same seems to be true of Gomez-Rejon’s film, which resembles a cross between John Hughes and Wes Anderson, quirky stylized humor balanced with contrived teenage melodrama. While this style is certainly successful, it only works by using several key characters to manipulate an emotional response from the film’s protagonist.
Is this film the masterpiece that the buzz from Sundance seemed to suggest? Not even close. Too many of the characters are never fully developed beyond how they impact the protagonist, with Earl falling victim to a series of unfortunate stereotypes and Greg’s parents even lacking something as simple as names. But it is a crowd-pleasing familiar narrative that has been approached with enough quirkiness to allow it to fit adequately into many categories. I don’t know that it even matters this film was independently made, because it doesn’t seem to have enough variation from studio films, aside from stylistic imitation of filmmakers known to thrive outside the studio system.
The Blu-ray release also comes with a digital HD copy of the film, along with the special features included on the disc. There is a director’s commentary, as well as a conversation between Gomez-Rejon and Martin Scorsese, who he used to work for. As far as additional footage, deleted scenes are included along with the unedited presentation of the film that Greg makes for Rachel. There is also a featurette about the parody films that Greg and Earl make throughout the film, as well as a generic making-of featurette. Also included is a trailer gallery.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
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