ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a film set in high school that pulls you in many different directions. It’s inventive, funny, touching, dramatic and features some great performances. It’s a movie that shouldn’t be missed.
Thomas Mann plays Greg, the me in the title. He also narrates at various times. At first he takes us through his school as he describes the various clubs. He doesn’t belong to any club, but he maintains good relations with all of them. He’s not one to make waves. Greg does this with short quips to the groups, but he never quite listens to what they have to say or their reaction. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung achieve this with a great tracking shot through the school. Greg is going through this stage of life wanting to survive. He doesn’t think he’s attractive or good enough to have any sort of social status.
His mother (Connie Britton) changes his life forever by forcing him to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Rachel had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg soon remembers to his horror that one of his funny quips earlier was to Rachel as she relayed her bad test result to a friend. The doomed friendship, as Greg and the titles on the bottom point out, between Rachel and Greg starts a bit rocky. He eventually wears her down with his quirky humor. He gives her pointers on how to talk to people who come up to her with fake concern. She tells him about her father and the things she used to do with him when she was younger. It refreshingly is a platonic relationship which Greg points out snarkily in his narration.
Greg claims he doesn’t have friends, but he does have one in Earl (RJ Cyler). He calls Earl his coworker since they work on short parody films together. Their films include Senior Citizen Cane, Sockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Butt. The films are clever with the use of animation, sock puppets and of course the acting by the two guys. Earl tells Rachel about these films to the consternation of Greg. Rachel though gets much pleasure from the silliness of these works.
Gomez-Rejon is working from a script by Jesse Andrews based on his novel of the same name. The movie has the very tricky job of being funny, while also exploring issues of death and friendship and fitting in. Greg gets closer to Rachel as she gets sicker and she starts doing chemotherapy. Madison (Katherine C. Hughes), who is a friend of Rachel’s, suggests to Greg and Earl that they make a movie for Rachel. Madison is a girl that Greg has always had a crush on. In Greg’s mind, as shown in funny animation, is that hot girls can get dorky guys to do just about anything by simply asking or with a grab of the arm. It is subtle things like that that Greg notices. He doesn’t exactly accept the proposal, but starts work on it anyway. On this front, Andrews was wise to not make Madison conceited or stuck up like so many other high school works. Madison is shown as a caring individual who is looking out for her friend.
All of the three leads are fantastic in this film. Cooke actually did shave her head for the role. It always fascinates me when I hear Cooke talk in interviews and her British accent is so pronounced. But in her roles, she delivers an American accent with such grace and aplomb. She does this as well on Bates Motel. Cooke is fierce as Rachel. She shows a great warmth and vulnerability to the character. They are several poignant scenes that she knocks out of the park. Mann is also fantastic as Greg. He is not afraid to show that Greg is awkward and not comfortable with himself. Many people will surely relate to the character and horrors of high school that confront us all. Cyler is a relative newcomer compared to the other two. He brings believability to Earl. He’s not over the top as the friend. There is a grounded reality there with how he interacts with Greg and Rachel. There are great futures in store for all three.
The making of the personal film and Rachel’s progress dominate the final third of the movie. I won’t divulge too much further on what happens to preserve the ending. I will just say that it should affect you emotionally wherever you are in your life.
Video: The explosion of colors and shades of light look great on video.
Audio: The sound was adequate. There were times when the music was a bit muddled.
Deleted Scenes (12:17): There are six scenes in all. A couple of them are silent scenes that set the mood. There is one more scene with Greg and Madison. There is a scene where Greg and Earl speak before the entire student body. All of the scenes can be watched with commentary from the director.
Abstract: Movie for Rachel (5:01): Greg and Earl’s movie that was made for Rachel and shown at the end of the film. This is the complete version.
This is Where You Learn How the Movie Was Made (38:47): Fascinating feature which explores all aspects of the film. You get the producer, screenwriter, director and actors talking about it. The chemistry between the actors is discussed. The director is patted on the back. You learn about the sets and the inspiration behind the story. You also discover how the movie was shot. You see Olivia Cooke actually getting her head shaved for the film.
A Conversation with Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (33:24): This is a casual conversation conducted in a theater. The two directors remember when they first met. Aspects of this film are discussed and probed further. They discuss some of Scorsese’s films and certain scenes in them. The works of other directors including Hitchcock, Ford and Hawks are tallied about. Scorsese also goes over the evolution of filmmaking through his films. He says that at first he craved the critical attention and that changed over time.
Greg’s Trailer (1:01): Trailer made by the character about the film he is in.
Greg Gaines and Earl Jackson Productions (4:39): Some of the short parody films that the two have made.
The Complete Gaines/Jackson Filmography: List of the parody films that the two made.
Audio Commentary by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon: The director’s commentary is quite informative and detailed. He is specific in what shots that he used and why he used them. He also likes to discuss the music that he features in the film. The performances by his actors are also touched upon. If you are into the filmmaking process, this is the commentary for you.
Gallery: Series of Still Images