Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: June 12th, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Actors: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes, Matt Bennett, Masam Holden
e and Earl and the Dying Girl” tackles the somber subjects of illness and death with humor, hope, and wit – at least for the first hour. Jumbling jocular conversations with bizarre imagery and even jovial camera movements, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s production draws laughs through insightful mockery of high school sufferance while relating relevant morals regarding friendship and love. But a tonal shift halfway through abandons the jests for drama, resultantly losing its momentum and originality. Stumbling over numerous opportunities for redemption, the picture draws to a climax that practically insists upon comparableness to “Cinema Paradiso,” but again fails to find focus – and ironically wanders off to the obscurity its protagonist initially yearns for.
Teenager Greg (Thomas Mann) attempts to saunter his way through high school without incident, befriending members of every clique (or “nations,” as he calls them) in order to mingle with relative inconspicuousness. Making short parodies of classic films in his spare time with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler), Greg succeeds in going unnoticed – until his mother insists that he make an effort to console classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a young girl recently diagnosed with leukemia. His simple world is thrown into chaos as he grows closer to Rachel, whose vibrant presence begins to reverse his own pessimistic outlook on life.
The film starts strong, buffeting viewers with instant formalism, surrealism, and metaphoric asides of animation. The creativity moves on to eccentric camera angles and whimsical observations, exaggerating the various homages to classic foreign and contemporary masterpieces, including the works of Herzog, Truffaut, Murnau, Leone, Scorsese, and more. The problem is that these film lover’s references are largely unbelievable when integrated into the setting of an average highschooler.
Like “Juno” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” there’s a specific disregard for realism when the youthful central characters behave as if they’re far wiser than their age would suggest. The casual, modern (or, at least, intended to be current) dialogue, the cynicism in the face of normalcy, the conscious approach to popularity, and the concept of merely surviving teenage interactions all exist on a level that works like idealistic hindsight. It’s as if much older, more experienced versions of the characters omnisciently regulate their actions in what should be a purely tumultuous battlefield of segregation and repression.
Although self-prescribed as terminally awkward, Greg is, in cinematic fashion, overly well-adjusted. He even acknowledges crafting a carefully cultivated invisibility to avoid embarrassment in social situations. Though battling with the concept of coolness, his role is as incompatible with the juvenile environment as Earl or Rachel, each designed for colorfulness and comedy over poignancy and genuineness.
The further the picture progresses, the more it fizzles and flounders, as if being adapted from a purportedly autobiographical book (by Jesse Andrews, who also penned the screenplay) prevented deviations toward truly inspiring exploits. The most disappointing aspect is the failure of so many cinema-stimulated experimentations to culminate in a mini-movie that is never even shown to the audience. Nevertheless, some of the humor wins out, with the self-aware, student-film aesthetic allowing for a delightfully strange hallucination sequence and oddball editing and framing techniques that give the movie a distinct look – even as it spoofs or nods to iconic titles.
– The Massie Twins