Kyle J. Steenblik

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is Heartwarming but Clichéd

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4 stars out of 5Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Screenplay: by Jesse Andrews
me and earl and the dying girl advance screeningBased on: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman
Running time: 105 minutes
Rated PG – 13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements

Independent film has come a long way in the past two decades, so far they have developed their own unique tropes which can feel as mass produced as the biggest Hollywood clichés.  Do not get me wrong, I still eat this up, I loved this movie, I found it heartwarming and hilarious, but also a touch unoriginal and predictable.  Building a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning film is beginning to appear as formulaic as building an Academy Award winning Best Picture; it is just a series of thematic checkboxes to tick.  I am sorry, I do not mean to vent my frustrations here, and I just had higher hopes for a film that for months had been so highly praised.  Yes, it was good, everyone was entertained, and touched, it is a worthwhile film, there is no question about that, but it was also cloyingly, tropishly sappy, but by all means see this film.

Seventeen-year-old Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler), suffers from a life changing relationship with a dying girl named Rachel (Olivia Cooke).  Greg struggles though adolescence while trying to understand friendship, life, death, and high school, all while trying to keep Rachel happy, sometimes at his own expense. 

If we look at our indie film trope checklist we have, Location in the suburb or adjacent to a second tier city, Pittsburgh suburb [check].  Classic film references [big check], misunderstood adolescent [yep], a life changing event they were not ready to handle [check], “creative” camera angles [check], narration or extensive monologues with unrealistic dialogue [absolutely], quirky parent [ check], friendly alcoholic parent [check], the “rebellious” role model [X]  … I feel I should stop myself.  The point here is every element in this film can be found in dozens of others.  As I said before, that does not make it bad, just repetitive.  I honestly cannot help but feel like I have seen this film every year, for the past 15 years.  Maybe it is time we just accept that indie film, is now a defined genera with its own clichés and tropes.

Those elements aside, the performances in this film, especially from the supporting cast, are excellent.  Marvelously executed humor filled with references I had to reach into some very obscure memories to understand.  In this way, it is a very smart film.  When the pacing began to slow down the cinematography kept things interesting until the story picked up the again, the gaps in pacing were fortunately small.  It was a little difficult to connect with the characters, although I could see many familiar elements, they all appeared far too outlandish.  Perhaps this was because everyone was a little unusual, so no one was particularly unusual.  The underlying message of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, that friendship is far more valuable than we can imagine, and it takes a lifetime to really know someone, are good things to take away from a film like this, even if it is at the expense of a bit of a cry, and some clichés.

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