Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

 

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Alfonso Gomez-Rejon stands out as a talent to watch, directing familiar territory with pizazz, humour 

and bracing honesty.

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Olivia Cooke

 

Another film about high school? The prom? Cancer? Really? If Me and Earl and the Dying Girl treads in familiar footsteps, it does so with an honesty, invention and humour that should position Alfonso Gomez-Rejon as a director to cherish. The Dying Girl format is fast establishing itself as a mainstream genre, what with Dakota Fanning, Shailene Woodley, Toni Collette and Julianne Moore all dying for the recent cause. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is different. One might argue that the girl with leukaemia is extraordinarily pretty (she is), but in Olivia Cooke’s capable hands Rachel Kushner is also terribly real. The self-pitying one is Greg (Thomas Mann), who narrates the thing and wants to sleep with Rachel but settles for having her as a best friend instead. She accuses him of being invisible, detached and self-hating and in one of the film’s most chilling scenes she tells him: “Just do something nice for me for once – and get out.” Of course, he can’t cope, and Rachel is the one who can. Earl (R.J. Cyler) is Greg’s best male friend and together they make a string of enormously inspired spoofs of world cinema classics: rough-and-ready shorts with titles like The 400 Bros, Death in Tennis and Breathe Less. It’s bizarre, too, to see Earl, an African-American teenager from the wrong side of the tracks, watching a documentary on Michael Powell. The film is full of such surprises. Relayed in the form of a video diary – complete with whacky chapter headings – the film, adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own novel, also boasts a terrific soundtrack and is beautifully framed by DP Chung-hoon Chung. Far from the amateurish cinematic doodles of Greg and Earl, it’s a work of art. It’s maybe too good for teenage audiences to appreciate but should appeal to all stripes of cineaste. It’s also exceptionally well acted by all concerned, although the Mancunian actress Olivia Cooke makes the greatest impact, complete with a flawless American accent. The fact that the film ends up being emotionally devastating is as it should be.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, R.J. Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Hugh Jackman (voice only).

 

Dir Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Pro Jeremy Dawson, Dan Fogelman and Steven M. Rales, Screenplay Jesse Andrews, Ph Chung-hoon Chung, Pro Des Gerald Sullivan, Ed David Trachtenberg, Music Brian Eno and Nico Muhly, Costumes Jennifer Eve.

 

Indian Paintbrush-20th Century Fox.

105 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 4 September 2015. Cert. 12A.