“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – a film review by Gary Chew
David Letterman finished off decades of late night television last month with these words just for his wife and son in the audience, “I love you both and nothing else really matters, does it?” Letterman’s closing shot, after saying “Well, that’s all I got,” made me think of another short burst of truth coming in a quote from Albert Camus, “I know of only one duty, and that is to love.”
Now you know what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about, but the message is more complicated in its telling. The movie recently rattled the rafters at Sundance. It was written and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon of Laredo, Texas, USA.
I’m cautious of movies that have at their core a character who is terminally ill. It seems that to play on sympathy is a lazy way to involve an audience. That’s not the case with Gomez-Rejon. He works hard at making you laugh your butt off while watching, then pushes it to you that sometimes, human beings really can be absolutely full of grace if they but bite the “bullet” and, by golly, just go on and do it.
Gomez/Rejon has placed the “bullet” in Greg’s mouth. Greg is played by a 24-year-old actor out of Portland, OR. His name is Thomas Mann, and not to be confused with a guy who used to write stuff in Germany and winning a Nobel Prize in 1929 before he had to flee Deutschland.
Greg’s mom (played Connie Britton) in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the “person with the bullet.” She tells Greg that one of his high school classmates has leukemia. Mom thinks Greg should give the girl some attention even though Greg says he only sort of knows her. You know how moms can be: “Greg, you will do it anyway.”
Greg’s eccentric father, who always seems to be unshaven, draped in a bathrobe and eating something from the fridge, concurs with his wife and also leans on Greg a little. At this point I have to add that Nick Offerman plays the dad. Gomez-Rejon couldn’t have picked a better dude for the part. You’ve seen Offerman, among other things, in Parks and Recreation and We’re The Millers. You’ve heard him doing the voice of Bob’s father in Bob’s Burgers. (But don’t tell yo Mama that you watch the Burgers series.)
Rachael (Brit actor, Olivia Cooke of Bates Motel) is unreceptive to Greg’s “drop-by” at her house. Rachael’s a smart young woman and knows what’s up. Greg knows that she’s knows that he knows. It’s pretty awkward. And despite Rachael’s circumstance, it’s pretty funny for us; Gomez/Rejon knows how to sugar coat his message with mirth, ironically sweeping away the icky goo that sometimes stymies such stories we’re more often expected to swallow.
Although the Me and Earl and the Dying Girl script is somewhat predictable, it stands so much taller than most movies with the same theme. Surprises are strewn into the “been-there-done-that” and comedic material.
To a great extent, Earl (RJ Cyler) generates lots of chuckles with his pithy street talk. I especially liked it when Earl — as a young boy in flashback — barks at a kitty on the porch with, “… you punk ass cat!” It’s in the trailer too. There’s no sex; and very refreshing it is for a young guy and a young gal hung up — only — on being two human beings who, first of all, are simply friends. PG-13.