Teen drama brims with life
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon departs from his recent horror projects (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, American Horror Story) to helm the big screen adaptation of Jesse Andrews’ popular novel.
Andrews himself adapted the screenplay and the story remains the same; following the escapades of high school best buddies Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) as they get to know Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate just diagnosed with leukemia.
Don’t worry if the subject matter doesn’t exactly scream a barrel of laughs; Gomez-Rejon’s charming flick is a delight from start to finish, bettering the similarly-themed – albeit with adult characters – 50/50 by a fair margin.
The ‘dramedy’ was a big hit at this year’s Sundance festival – winning the Grand Jury prize – and it’s not hard to see why, with all fears of an overdose of sentimentality, or jaw-droppingly cringeworthy attempts to poke fun at terminal illness, batted out of the park from the off.
Gomez-Rejon and Andrews show their love of film through Greg and Earl’s ridiculously endearing homemade movies and that plot strand in itself could’ve made for a superb teen version of Be Kind Rewind.
But then Cooke comes along and changes everything with a bond forming between her stricken student and Greg.
The Bates Motel and Ouija star is a revelation as the terminally ill pupil who makes light of her disease and refuses to let it slow her down as she carries on with her studies.
Mann also hits a career zenith and the pair share stupendously sweet moments together, although refreshingly there’s no eyelash fluttering and declarations of love as the duo’s relationship remains purely platonic.
Cyler is a hugely likeable presence too in only his second screen credit of any kind and Connie Britton (Greg’s Mom) and Molly Shannon (Denise) ensure it’s not just the kids who shine.
Jon Bernthal (Mr McCarthy) is also a hoot in a small but important role that’s a world away from his turn as Shane in television hit The Walking Dead.
Gomez- Rejon takes Andrews words and elevates them from the page with creative triumphs including talking posters and a super soundtrack compiled by Brian Eno reflects the bouncy, positive mood perfectly.
The inevitable ending to Rachel’s story is handled beautifully and while there are sure to be a few tears here and there, it’s because you genuinely care as opposed to clever manipulation and desperate tactics by the filmmakers.
A coming-of-age indie tale with a difference, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl goes off in several unexpected directions and features a young cast at the peak of their acting powers.
Smart, sweet and far from soppy, it’s also a welcome departure from the prequels, sequels, remakes and comic book adventures crowding the marketplace.
High school chums Mann and Cooke get acquainted