by Robert Pagan
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may seem like any coming of age film but differs in many ways through a variety of aspects. Our main character of Greg played by Thomas Mann is an unusual high-school senior that seems to both fit in and be isolated at the same time. He unlike most of the other students at his school is not designated to only one social group. Greg belongs to several social groups without having any real friends in any of them. The exception to that possibly being Earl played by RJ Cyler. That being said Greg still only considers Earl his “co-worker." The so-called work they do is making parodies of classic movies. What Greg perceives his life to be all changes once he befriends Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke who has just been diagnosed with cancer. There is a pertinent message in the film regarding how cope with someone who has cancer, but it is the unconventional nature of this film that really make it shine.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon creates the film in a way unlike any other would do on the same subject. From a technical and aesthetic standpoint, the film is much different. The camera movement is very much fluid. Long tracking shots follow the characters in and out of rooms and up and down stairs. The repeated use of pans and zooms add to the gracefulness the camera has. There is even a scene where the camera rotated 90 degrees on the vertical plane as it follows a character.
Framing is also something that is rather progressive in the film. Much of the shots are longer and from wider angles that give a better depth of field as well as show more in the frame. This is particularly effective in scenes that take place in Rachel’s room where there is much to see and learn about her. Conversely, these are complemented well with the extreme close-ups mostly on the characters’ faces where a sense of intimacy is created with the audience. Both the wide-angled long shots and the extreme close-ups better connect the characters with the viewers.
The use of space in the frame is also rather unusual often breaking traditional rules used when filming. A typical over-the-shoulder shot with two characters conversing would be shot close to shoulder barely showing that character. However, most of the scenes like this in the film are shot with the camera farther being the character. The character’s entire back can be seen in the shot. In the same vein when there are close-up shots of two characters conversing more space is normally shown in the direction where each character is looking. Yet, in many scenes more space is shown in the opposite direction.
Pacing and narrative techniques of the film are done in such eloquent but irregular ways. Like many other coming of age films, the film is guided by narration. This is done solely by Greg. He is telling the story of the film in a form of a flashback from a future point in time. The pacing regulated not only through the narration but also with intertitles that act as chapter headings. The narration also gives much more insight to what Greg is thinking and feeling which adds to the storytelling that the film does so well. For example, the manifestations of Greg’s psyche are done in unique ways. Claymation and Stop-motion are used to represent many of the thoughts or concepts of Greg. This enhances the eccentric personality of the film.
Unlike other films Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, is very much self-referential when it comes to the history of film. Greg and Earl as a hobby or as they put it a “job” recreate classic films in their own image. Everything from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to Kurosawa’s Rashomon is remade by them in a satirical way. This even extends to the names of the films changing to the likes of “A Sockwork Orange” and “Rash-O-Man.” That is not to say Earl and especially Greg do not value the classics for their historical value. These parodies are done out of respect to the history of film. Greg even quotes the great Werner Herzog at one point. The parodies are similar and oddly reminiscent of the recreations done in Be Kind Rewind (2008).
If anyone else other than Gomez-Rejon had done this film it would look drastically different. The uses of alternative visual and narrative methods create a film that is unlike any other. Whether it is the use of the camera in both movement and framing or the metacinema aspects rarely done in other films Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has a persona of its own that stands out among the other coming of age stories.
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