One of the best dramas last year was also one of the funniest comedies. However, the emotional aspects only worked because the movie is so funny.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own book and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, but the film came and went unnoticed when it was released. And it’s not hard to see why: It’s got all the quirk of Little Miss Sunshine, but one of its principle characters is a 17-year-old girl dying of leukemia, Rachel. On top of that, the main character Greg (he’s the “me” in the title) only hangs out with her because his mom’s making him. So yeah.
In a way, you could describe Me and Earl as the anti–Fault in Our Stars. While the latter exists for the sole purpose of manipulating its audience into crying (and, for the most part, works), Me and Earl instead wants to manipulate its characters. Greg is “terminally awkward” with “a face like a groundhog” and as selfish as any other teen. In fact, it takes him until the end of the film to realize it’s Rachel’s story, not his.
It helps that Greg is a funny character with a very distinct voice. Some of the lesser screenwriting gurus have been on a vendetta against voice-over for a while now, but like any other stylistic device, good voice-over is still good. It doesn’t just explain what we’re seeing—the movie would work fine without it. What makes Greg’s narration stand out is it extends from his personality and is unique to his quirky, funny, awkward voice.
But beneath all the quirk and clever witticisms, Me and Earl is still a smart script. Nearly every joke in it works, so when it shifts gears to drama, the emotions hit like a ton of bricks. That isn’t an original tool, but it is tried and true: Preceding a dramatic moment with comedy helps that moment really land. Add in Gomez-Rejon’s smart directorial flourishes (developed on American Horror Story and his directorial debut, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) and Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung’s (Oldboy) beautiful images, and you’ve got a beautiful film with an excellent story.