Saturday, July 4, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Friendships imperiled by sickness are the stuff of melodrama. Thankfully "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by director  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Tv's American Horror Story) manages to avoid any pitfalls of sap by giving some quirky charm and vibrance in its place.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a melancholy high school student caring only for cinema. He pathologically avoids the intimacy of others spending most of his time with his friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) watching Werner Herzog films in the office of the history teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal)

Greg's domineering mom (Connie Britton) informs him that Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow classmate, has leukemia urging him to spend time with her. Greg is resolutely opposed, thinking it would impair his energies as a creative loner, aside from acute anxiety.

Greg reluctantly agrees. So begins an unusual friendship between the two.

At the heart of this film is the wondrous chemistry between actors Cooke and Mann, who don't ham it up and have a generosity of spirit that is freely given.

For a start, Mann is terrific, drawing from the rich history of characters depicted in the films of John Hughes, right on par with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club." Cooke is spirited and authentic, with a full range of emotion, not one of them being a withered sadness. This is no sob story, but a chronicle of a friendship, much of it with a light lift.

But that is not to say that it ignores darkness completely. More often than not, however, the film tells it like it is and then moves on.

The repartee between the two is destined to be classic, in parallel to Matthew Broderick's antics as a young kid.

This film has a texture and a color that actually feels like the psychic heart of a teenager. The camera is frequently tilted sideways in perspective, from up above or upside down. School cafeterias feel like prisons. A girl's room is a warm sanctuary filled with pillows, at once funny and erotic.

Within the whimsy of the camera angles is a profound pulse which illustrates the wildness of a teen: one part euphoria, one part comedic horror-show.

Interspersed with the ups and downs are some very funny jokes about classic cinema with most of the humor aimed at Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Well known for comedy herself on "Saturday Night Live," Molly Shannon gives a spare and understated performance as Rachel's mother, who covers up her worry with a forced joie de vivre. Nick Offerman does fine too as Greg's father, though his character trades heavily on Offerman's past goofy parent incarnations.

Although it does flirt with the sentimental and the bittersweet, it is to its credit that it never slides fully into soupy emotion.

Above all, the film is a surprising portrait of friendship. Its glib self deprecating spirit is refreshing and without cynicism. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" delivers a type of "The Breakfast Club" to a new generation making an irrepressible crowd pleaser, garnished with jovial colors.

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