Sundance Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Sundance film festival is in full swing and I finally have a review to show for it! Last night I went to a screening of Me, and Earl and the Dying Girl. There are some Sundance movies that I love immediately (The Way, Way Back, and Liberal Arts) and others I know I like an awful lot...but I need time to ponder just how much (God Help the Girl...which shortly after reflection I came to love dearly.) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (which from here on out we will refer to simply as Dying Girl) fits into the latter category. I found a lot I absolutely admired, but like the main character of Dying Girl, I guess I have a hard time fully embracing something without the certainty of love? That's not to say I didn't like the film. The fact is, I really really liked it. I just don't know if I can say THE L-word (no not lesbians.) But as with the case of God Help the Girl, I am sure my affection will grow for this film with time and repeat viewings.
Dying Girl follows the story of Greg Gaines, a high school boy with a desire to exist peacefully and somewhat invisibly, among the many cliques that surround him. If he can't identify himself as one particular type he can't be really be rejected; he's content to keep people at arm's length. His status quo is thrown a wrench when his mother forces him to befriend a neighbor girl named Rachel who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. The film acts as a chronicle of their friendship while also acquainting us more with Greg's issues. Also along the way, we learn of Greg and his "co-worker" Earl's fondness for filmmaking (akin to the protagonists of Son of Rambow and Be Kind Rewind.) The sequences that showcase their many collaborative efforts were undoubtedly the biggest crowd-pleasing moments of the night. But as much as I love film and appreciate those homages, for me it was the quieter moments that are sticking with me. The first half of the film is absolute fun as our narrator paints the portrait of his life and burgeoning friendship with Rachel... but it wouldn't really work without a main character we like as much as Greg. He's funny but flawed and his self-deprecating humor is endearing to all who see shades of ourselves in him. The other two characters represented in the title have much depth to them as well, with Earl being the less developed since the focus isn't really on him. All three though are given real moments to shine and make their characters become three-dimensional and they all succeed in their portrayals. The first half is kind of frantic, but when it slows down there's a quiet power in two scenes in particular. The framing of the shot shows both characters on screen, neither one looking at each other really... Just showing their reactions to the conversation they're having and the shot just lingers on and on. It happens twice and it was just beautiful.
Though it may seem like a standard cancer movie, it is told any way but conventionally. I really liked the visual style... But after too much, it also gave me a headache. The camera is always moving and is almost a character itself. I normally love these kinda shots and it seemed as though it was done to make us all feel like we were in the story...but really the amount of it all just made me dizzy. This headache fog wasn't helped by the fact that the narration set me up with a set of expectations for how much plot there was left to go which made me constantly aware of the run-time. I appreciate its dramatic purpose and no I didn't have a problem with what happens... I just was constantly thinking in my brain about what was left to happen to meet the narration and at times, it overwhelmed me. These two things are what's keeping me from saying the L word just yet. Repeated viewings (and sitting further away to help reduce the headaches from the constant camera movements,) I'm confident will help.