[Screen It]


(2015) (Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A creative but otherwise self-deprecating high school senior spends increasing amounts of time with his classmate who's been stricken with leukemia.
Greg Gaines (THOMAS MANN) is a high school senior who observes life at his school with a sarcastic eye, what with the various cliques and the usual social strata, and thinks the likes of pretty classmate Madison (KATHERINE C. HUGHES) secretly like to toy with his emotions. When not spending time with his "co-worker" (best friend), Earl (RONALD CYLER II), hanging out in the office of their favorite teacher, Mr. McCarthy (JON BERNTHAL), Greg makes parody versions of their favorite films with Earl.

At home, Greg isn't happy when his parents (CONNIE BRITTON & NICK OFFERMAN) go through his things, or that his mom has now instructed him to spend time with another classmate, Rachel Kushner (OLIVIA COOKE). She's recently been diagnosed with leukemia, and Greg isn't sure what he's supposed to do as the two teens barely know each other. Even so, Rachel's mom, Denise (MOLLY SHANNON), is happy to have him there, and Rachel and Greg eventually become closer friends, especially since she enjoys his and Earl's short films.

With Rachel's prognosis uncertain, Greg finds it difficult to finish a film he's making for her, all as they go through the ups and downs of her condition and its wavering effect on their friendship.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
While it's highly unlikely either will occur in our lifetime, one can always hold out hope that someday, somehow, both taxes and death will disappear from the human existence. I'm guessing the latter will be solved and removed from the equation before the former.

Not surprisingly, since death is a common denominator for all life, it regularly makes its presence known in movies, and I'm not just talking about the Max von Sydow or Brad Pitt versions of the Grim Reaper. No, villains often die in movies and innocent people perish in disaster and monster movies all of the time. Heck, even Bambi's mom didn't make it all the way to the end credits.

There are also movies that dwell on the matter of a certain character taking ill and facing their demise. Many fall into the TV sub-genre known as the "disease of the week" and exist as a sort of death porn designed to get the waterworks flowing. Big screen versions have been known to do the same, but sometimes flicks such as "The Fault In Our Stars" come along and make such views of life and death a bit easier to view and experience.

Based on its title alone, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" certainly signifies what some or most of the story will be about. If you might also think it has the sound of a title designed to appeal to art house audiences and film festival attendees, you would be correct. But it's possible this little film that wowed them at Sundance earlier this year could become a crossover hit with regular moviegoers.

As directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon from a script Jesse Andrews adapted from his own novel of the same name, the film revolves around a high school senior (Thomas Mann playing the "me" part) who makes creative parody versions of popular films with his friend (Ronald Cyler II as Earl, the scene stealer). That's the kind of jokey reference material that diehard movie fans and especially critics ravenously eat up after sitting through horrible to mediocre films day after day, and some of the titles -- "2:48 Cowboy"(rather than "Midnight Cowboy"), "My Dinner With Andre the Giant" and "A Box of Lips - Wow!" ("Apocalypse Now") -- are funny.

The film also features the usual indie pic element of snarky voice-over narration and other such elements that are likely cinematic offspring from the likes of Wes Anderson and similar creative and quirky filmmakers. That character trend and storytelling approach continues when Greg's mother (Connie Britton, while Nick Offerman plays his less "parental" father) forces the teen to spend time with a sick classmate (Olivia Cooke playing Rachel, the dying girl) who's been diagnosed with leukemia.

That light, fun and entertaining approach certainly makes the subject matter and her condition go down easier. It also endears the characters to viewers, thus bringing them into their personal circle. All of which then makes the more serious matters and moments hit home a bit more emotionally than they might have otherwise had everything been played straight and somber.

The performances from the leads (and most of the rest of the cast, for that matter) is terrific, and the two teens have a believable chemistry together, especially as Greg must grow up when confronted with this new and far more serious reality of life. Interestingly enough (not to mention thankfully), there's no real romantic spark between the two (unlike what Billy Crystal's character believed in "When Harry Met Sally," members of the opposite sex can be just friends).

If you like your "indie" films smart, fun, funny, touching, heartfelt and bittersweet, I imagine you're going to want to join "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" for some always solid to often terrific cinema. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 27, 2015 / Posted June 12, 2015

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