Proving that the power of true friendship knows no bounds, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a uniquely funny, uplifting tale that will steal your heart and leave you laughing! Meet Greg Gaines, a quirky teenager trying to coast through high school while making hilariously mediocre film parodies with his "coworker" Earl. But when he is forced to spend time with a terminally ill classmate at the request of his meddling mother, Greg embarks on his most ambitious project yet: to let his guard down and connect with those around him in ways he never imagined.
I first saw 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Initially, it was very well received. It won two of Sundance's big awards, the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. However, the film soon became a lightning rod for polarizing reviews. Something of a barometer amongst critics. Those who loved it, adored it. Those who hated it, loathed it. I'm in the former group.
'Me and Earl and the Dying Gril' is based on Jess Andrews' novel of the same name. Andrews is also the person who adapted the screenplay. Having not read the book, I can't confirm whether it lives up to it, but having seen the film I can attest that Andrews – along with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – do a phenomenal job at navigating the quirkiness of teenage life, and the complicated feelings that arise when dealing with death.
Sure, it's quirky. If you're not into "quirky" Sundance-type fare (think '(500) Days of Summer' or 'Juno') then this might not be the movie for you. It's a rat-ta-tat-tat type of delivery where the dialogue sounds just a tad unbelievable, not unlike say 'Gilmore Girls.' I for one am a sucker for these types of screenplays.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is the "me" in the title. He's an apathetic teenager who has figured out that the way to survive high school is to kind of be friends with everyone. By not belonging to one particular group Greg floats around the high school ecosystem invisibly.
He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make films. Very, very low-budget films. It's one of the best comedic devices of the movie. They create alternate pun titles for classic movies (For example: 'Eyes Wide Butt,' or 'My Dinner with Andre the Giant') and craft a movie around the new title.
Greg's latent narcissism forces him to distance himself from just about everyone. What's so strange about Greg is that he's a congenial, funny kid. Yet, his self-esteem is piss-poor. He's so afraid of commitment to another human that he won't even call Earl his friend, instead he refers to Earl as his "co-worker," because they make films together.
As if trying to sabotage his carefully crafted imperceptible existence, Greg's mother lovingly nudges him toward hanging out with a girl who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg reluctantly accepts, but only because his mom won't leave him alone until he does. Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the girl with cancer, quickly becomes Greg's new friend.
The criticism of 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' comes from the idea that Rachel only exists to further Greg's progress as a decent human being. Perhaps that's the case. Maybe she's just a literary device constructed to help Greg's character change from undesirable to desirable. I, however, never got that feeling.
To me the relationship between Greg and Rachel seems to encompass both of them. Sure, Greg is the main focus of the story, but it appears to be a mutually beneficial relationship. The way their friendship blossoms is a near-perfect construction of teenage angst and unconditional companionship.
The final scene catches you off guard. It's cleverly plotted to elicit strong emotion, but the sentiment is earned, not forced.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release. It comes with a 50GB Blu-ray. There is also a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A slipcover is included.
This 1080p transfer is as wonderfully detailed and colorful as you might expect. Even though 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' is lower budget film that premiered at film festivals, it's still got all the hallmarks of a cinematic-looking film.
Even though it was shot digitally, it has decidedly good depth to the picture. Black areas are very nicely done. Shadows are consistently on point. Sometimes with low-budget digitally filmed movies, black areas can harbor noise or unbearable banding. Here, none of those things exist. Instead, we're provided with a consistently clean and clear picture.
Details is top-notch. Close-ups show everything from facial hair, to freckles, to teenage acne. Colors are striking. Primaries are bold and nearly jump off the screen. The movies that Greg and Earl make come from varying film stock qualities. Some look like they were filmed with an 8mm camera. But, those are the way they are for a reason. Taking that into consideration, 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' boasts a wonderfully well-rounded video presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does what it sets out to do, and that's all you can ask from it. Since the film is very talk-heavy, most of the sound is featured front and center. Dialogue is the main thrust of sound for this movie, and it comes out cleanly through the front and center channels depending on directionality.
There are a few examples of surround sound that jump out. Greg's impossibly rowdy school – especially the utter wilderness that is the lunchroom – offers some great rear channel effects. Teenagers whooping and hollering as the camera zooms through them provides a rich sound mix that is constantly in flux.
There's not much else to discuss here. Everything this mix is asked to do, it does. It's not asked to do much, but what it does it does very well.
Audio Commentary – A commentary track is provided by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. He's a knowledgeable fellow and he offers up a very informative track about the filmmaking process.
Abstract: Movie for Rachel (HD, 5 min.) – This is the complete film that Greg and Earl create for Rachel. You only get to see bits and pieces in the movie.
This is Where You Learn How the Movie Was Made (HD, 39 min.) – This is a very worthwhile collection of featurettes that discuss how the movie was made, the shooting locations, behind the scenes action, and all the rest. The nice length allows the featurette to go into more depth than most making-of documentaries attempt.
A Conversation with Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (HD, 33 min.) – This is a surprising little featurette where the venerable director, Martin Scorsese, and the director of 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' sit down in a theater seats to discuss making the movie. Scorsese throws out some questions for Gomez-Rejon to answer. Gomez-Rejon began his filmmaking career as a personal assistant to Scorsese, so that's how they know each other.
Greg's Trailer (HD, 1 min.) – A Greg-made trailer for the movie.
Greg Gaines and Earl Jackson Productions (HD, 5 min.) – A short tour through the demented filmography of the two amateur filmmakers.
The Complete Jackson/Gaines Filmography (HD, 1 min.) – A quick list of all of the parody titles included in the collection.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – The theatrical trailer is also included.
'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' might be too quirky for some, and that's OK. For me, however, it hits a sweet spot. The same emotional center that was struck by movies like '(500) Days of Summer'. It's a delightful little comedy that throws in just enough drama and emotion to keep it grounded. The audio and video presentations are solid. The helping of worthwhile extras is a huge plus. This one is recommended.