Monday, September 07, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (on general release + at QFT until 17 September)

Greg Gaines (played by Thomas Mann) steers an invisible path through his Pittsburgh school, avoiding any sense of antagonism or friendship with the various cliques and gangs. His careful detachment is only relaxed when he eats lunch with fellow student Earl (RJ Cyler) in their History teacher’s office. Together the two cinema-obsessives have made 42 short films parodying the titles of popular movies: A Sockwork Orange, The Seven Seals, Death in Tennis, etc.

Blessed with domineering parents, Greg is firmly directed by his mother to go and spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a school peer who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. In a reverse pity-plea, Greg heads round to Rachel’s house and beseeches her to thole him hanging out for the day otherwise his mother will kill him.

The genius of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the way it turns the befriending-a-sick-person genre on its head. This is no sentimental romcom. For a start, the only kissing you’ll see will be fairly inappropriate puckering up by Rachel’s divorced mother (Molly Shannon) who is on the cougar side of crazy.

Neither Rachel nor Greg are heroic. Rachel displays a degree of stoicism, but overall her chemotherapy, going bald, feeling weak, having to endure people’s truisms in reaction to her terminal illness all suck. Meanwhile quirky Greg’s ability to crack a joke and force a smile onto Rachel’s increasingly ashen face is cancelled out by his self-centred ability to be “terminally awkward” and treat his new pal as a burden. Yet he allows his grades to fall to the wayside as he invests time and creative energy in his platonic mate.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is laden with references to modern culture and cinema – most of which I probably missed – and cinephiles may be exhausted by the end of the 105 minute film. The camera work is distinctive, with long takes shot from unusual angles.

The short parody films that pepper the real-world action will surely be added as extras to the Blu-ray/DVD release. Full of physical humour, surrealism, stop go animation as well as crazy costumes and props, they bring back memories of classic films by Michael Gondry like The Science of Sleep.

Frequently laugh out loud funny and scarcely sentimental, I challenge you not to weep your lamps out as Rachel finally gets the chance to watch the film Greg and Earl have made for especially for her.

Artistic creativity combined with tender performances that celebrate the best and worst of teenage years make Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a deserving title to share a shelf with cinematic greats like Juno.

Alongside most local chains and independent cinemas, you can also catch Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at the Queen’s Film Theatre until 17 September. Well worth it for the surrealism and genre-busting screenplay. And if you’re lucky, like me you’ll end up deep in conversation at the bar with Harold and Maude – or other enthusiastic cinema goers – a long time after the movie has finished.

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