‘Me and Earl’ and the next great love story

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

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‘Me and Earl’ and the next great love story

Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler have top-notch chemistry in Jesse Andrews’ film adaptation of his young-adult novel ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.’

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The trailer for ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,’ starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler.
Fox Searchlight

Millennials don’t have a John Hughes, a guy who puts teenagers on the big screen in a meaningful, watchable way.

But they do have Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Deftly juggling humor and heartache while always exuding a lovable quirkiness, the excellent art-house comedy/drama (* * * ½ out of four; rated PG-13; in select cities Friday, expanding June 19) showcases three teenagers who pop off the screen with originality and, unlike a lot of the current coming-of-age ilk, just the right amount of unpredictability.

Screenwriter Jesse Andrews adapts his own young-adult novel and introduces Greg (Thomas Mann), a kid who survives high school by being everyone’s friend but no one’s at the same time. His not-altogether-bad idea: Blend in, but don’t stand out. The only person he lets in in any real way is Earl (newcomer RJ Cyler), a laid-back sort who calmly deals with Greg’s neuroses.

Greg’s whole raison d’être gets blown up when his mom (Connie Britton) nags him into submission about visiting Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate who’s diagnosed with leukemia. At first she’s as awkward about this forced friendship as Greg, but the two discover a bond that changes both of them.

Even though in voiceover Greg tells the audience “this isn’t a touching romantic story,” that doesn’t mean director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon can’t have a little fun with expectation.

One senses he knows that people are just waiting for these two kids to have a love story akin to The Fault in Our Stars or any other entry in the teen-movie pantheon, so the filmmaker frames shots where Greg and Rachel are on opposite sides of the room as they enjoy some of their most important connecting moments.

Mann and Cooke’s chemistry is off the charts: She really gets some meaty scenes as the cancer takes hold of Rachel, and Mann follows suit as Greg wrestles with maybe losing this new positive force in his life.

Cyler is a real discovery as Earl; the only negative is that the scene-stealing character isn’t in the movie enough. The actor makes the most of his opportunities, though, especially as Earl transitions from sidekick to real friend, giving Greg an emotional smackdown when he needs it most.

There are standouts among the grown-ups as well. Nick Offerman plays off his oddball Parks and Recreation role here as Greg’s sociology professor dad, an aloof figure who loves his cat and weird cuisine. Molly Shannon is excellent as Rachel’s worried, wine-guzzling mom, and Jon Bernthal is outstanding as a sensitively macho teacher who doubles as Greg’s authoritative voice of reason.

Me and Earl mines some serious drama but one of its most winning qualities is that it always finds time for whimsy, mostly in the form of Greg and Earl’s “remakes” of classic films. Other movies opening this weekend may have rampaging dinosaurs, but only one offers The Janitor of Oz and Rosemary Baby Carrots.

There’s room for both laughter and tears as Me and Earl weaves its threesome into this generation’s next great love story.

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