ADAPTED for the screen by the same man who wrote the novel, Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is positioned as a moving yet reasonably enjoyable adaptation which might seem more gettable by cinephiles than its target audience.
Social outcast Greg (Thomas Mann) spends his days with his only friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) watching foreign films and constructing an existence that goes against the basic teenage conventions. His life effectively changes when he is pressed by his mother to befriend a girl he is barely acquainted with named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who it turns out has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
Under great reluctance amid fearing she will suss out he is only befriending her due to her condition, he visits her where, after an awkward initial meeting, develops a friendship with her, captioned throughout the film as ‘‘doomed’’.
As time progresses, the friendship introduces her to a hobby that he and Earl participate in, creating parodies of various films, American and foreign, where various scenes are re-enacted and titles are re-named. Though the friendship blossoms, the condition gets worse, prompting a decision from Rachel that will potentially shape the direction which Greg is heading towards.
Part of the film’s appeal comes from the fact that when looking at the film, instead of just being a light-hearted comedic foray into a sensitive subject, it comes across as a genuine love letter to cinema.
The target audience of teenagers who will enter the film expecting a basic study of friendships being defined with a mix of humour and tragedy will get that, but might be lost on the more welcome part of its detailing of Greg and Earl’s hobby. People who know quite a lot about all kinds of cinema rather than those who only know a bit about modern American cinema will be surprised at how significant the film’s homage to cinema works.
The milk-drinking scene in A Clockwork Orange is re-enacted with sock puppets for ‘A Sockwork Orange’. Midnight Cowboy is parodied as ‘2.48pm Cowboy’. Jean-Paul Belondo’s death scene in Breathless is acted out in ‘Breathe Less’. The murder scene at the start of Peeping Tom becomes Pooping Tom. The chess battle from The Seventh Seal is humorously portrayed in The Seven Seals. At one point, Greg even hands Rachel a copy of Monorash which is his graphic interpretation of Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The best of the lot however comes from a parody of the mailbox being blown up in Mean Streets which becomes the feature for ‘Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs’.
In addition, a series of stop-motion sequences that appear sporadically in this film bring to mind some of the work from Jan Svankmajer, another welcome segment that shows how this has been made for people with a genuine interest in cinema as well.
By using these scenes, it ties in well with the centre ground of the film’s message. Even if it does lose track to some of the younger audience members for those sequences, the end result is still featuring of the conventions that go within the coming-of-age dramedy genre. It also succeeds thanks in part to the charming performances from Mann and Cyler II, on top of the moving performance of Cooke.
One scene in particular involving Greg and Rachel setting up the third act is particularly memorable as its shooting in an uninterrupted take allows real human emotion to be expressed vividly and convincingly.
Further praise should be mentioned for Jon Bernthal as Mr McCarthy, the Vietnamese-soup guzzling history teacher who eliminates all thoughts of being one-dimensional in a scene where he explains to Greg a story of his late father.
The characters alone stand up for crafting a good bulk of the story and even when the story becomes predictable, a genuine sympathy for the scenarios and a likability for its leading trio does make it work.
With a welcome direction and a well-balanced handling of its various motives, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl makes for enjoyable viewing for both its cinematic nostalgia and detailed character studies.