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Arts Film Review

New films: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl plus moviebriefs for Max and Ted 2

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

One of the best films of the year opens in Sacramento this week. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” won both the Audience and Grand Jury prizes at Sundance this year, while logging a record $12m in its sale to Fox Searchlight. And it’s not hard to see why.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high school senior with a system. When he’s not making (hilarious) underground spoofs of famous films with his (un)friend Earl (R.J. Cyler), he’s navigating the cliques of his school in a manner that keeps him just engaged enough with everybody that he’s hated by nobody. That is, until his parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) insist that he hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

That’s the setup for a remarkable story. It’s not so much that the basic arc is original or different, more that the telling of it is simply delightful. There’s an openness and honesty in the characterizations and the telling of their stories that’s refreshing. These aren’t perfect people – they have depth and awkwardness and bad moments as noteworthy as the good ones. In a sense, it’s an interesting follow-up in this market for last week’s “Inside Out” in which the young protagonist reaches an age when experiences and their resultant memories become multi-faceted and encompass mixed emotions.

Both Greg and Rachel are reluctant participants in this parental scheme and things don’t start well. And Greg’s relationship with Earl, which is far better established but not necessarily better defined, doesn’t really bode well for his ability to connect emotionally with others. He’s protected himself for years by maintaining distance.

What’s also interesting is the way the film depicts serious illness and the effects it has on those around it. As Greg and Rachel get to know each other, she pretty much figures him out, whereas there’s a level of detachment in reverse that isn’t simply Greg being Greg, it’s symptomatic of the way in which we so often see diseases and disabilities before we see the person.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” delivers on so many levels it’s hard to really describe it successfully. There’s the teen friendship beset by disease dynamic of “The Fault in Our Stars” (or so many others) but also the quirky offbeat vibe of a far less mainstream film (as though perhaps “Juno” had somehow involved Wes Anderson). The comedy is rich and funny while the life experiences are profound and meaningful. There are also the films within the film, the works of Greg and Earl, that filmmakers and film aficionados would likely line up to see (and to recall afterwards) which are simply laugh out loud wonders.

It’s an easy film to recommend and one that I expect to enjoy again soon (which is unusual for me).

Moviebriefs

If you’ve seen what seems like the extraordinarily comprehensive preview for “Max,” it might be hard to believe that the 111m version of the film could deliver much more. But it does and it’s a pleasant and successful film in the spirit of boy and his dog (or horse or dolphin) tales of yesteryear. In that sense it really feels quite traditional, while also inserting a topical storyline, as young Justin inherits his fallen Marine brother’s trained war dog Max. As well as having lost his human, Max suffers from a canine version of PTSD but he seems to sense something familiar in Justin as they become embroiled in the bad actions of others. The film goes a little overboard with what Max can and can’t do, but no more so than its predecessors, and some of the human performances aren’t that spectacular. But it works as a light, summery action yarn at the other end of the budget spectrum from the “Jurassic…” and Terminator..” reboots. A little reminiscent of the Saturday picture club films of my childhood, it’s not a bad way to spend a matinee-priced early afternoon.

I made the possible mistake of rewatching “Ted” on the afternoon of the press screening of “Ted 2.” While the themes and characters are still there, and it seems similar on the surface, “Ted 2” seemed less appealing to me and somewhat more mean spirited in execution. In this second outing for the magically animated but overtly crass teddy bear, Ted marries Tami-Lynn but subsequently finds his personhood challenged by the state, affecting his employment and marital rights. It’s odd in this week of actual monumental court decisions to see the casual and perhaps unintended targeting of minorities involved in some of the jokes in this sequel. Meanwhile the film doesn’t have the structure of the first one, with a repeated subplot that plays less well, is anti-climactic, and features one of the oddest product placement judgment calls for Hasbro. While I certainly laughed at times during the film, I also winced a few times and that’s awkward. I enjoyed rewatching “Ted” but, on balance, didn’t much enjoy “Ted 2.”

Other film news

The 14th Sacramento French Film Festival continues and concludes this weekend. See here for all the necessary links and information.

New films: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl plus moviebriefs for Max and Ted 2 via @sacramentopress

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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