Saturday, May 23, 2015

Independent Film Festival Boston 2015 Day #08: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Last night of the festival, by which point everyone is kind of worn out and it's probably a good thing that we're only in for one film that night. One thing that seemed kind of surprising was just how low-key things felt compared to period years. Brian mostly did solo emcee duty at the big events like opening and closing nights, compared to a larger team in previous years, and while the festival lineup didn't feel scaled-down, especially if you like documentaries, I do think they were stretched a little thinner than usual this year. Hopefully the successful matching-donation drive has them in better shape going into 2016.

WBUR's Erin Trahan & ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL writer James Andrews at IFFBoston 2015

I don't think I got a single photo of WBUR contributor Erin Trahan and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl writer James Andrews that didn't look goofy or blurry, so we may as well just run with it.

As you might guess from looking at it, this turned out to be a really fun Q&A. It was the second of the festival that had someone who interviews for a living directing things, and I think that can really help set the tone, raising the bar for the quality of questions, potentially redirecting the ones festival veterans groan at toward something more interesting and specific, and the like. It also helps that Andrews was an enthusiastic participant. There was a fair amount of talk about how screenwriting requires pretty ruthless self-editing compared to writing a novel, and that adapting your own book might make it even worse - you knew that was good, after all!

I'm mildly curious to read the book, because one thing that really makes the movie work is just how visual it is: Greg and (as we layer discover) Rachel are both people who create things in visual media, and they wind up really feeling like they were designed for a movie rather than a book. It's the area where Andrews had to say you'd have to ask Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (the director) most, and I hope some folks did get a few good questions in when a much bigger combo of the cast and crew visited the Brattle a few weeks later.

Something else fun: Andrews set the story in the part of Pittsburgh where he few up, and add a result the film wound up shooting in the very house he lived in. How old (now-shuttered) high school, too, unless I'm confusing that with some other movies story.

Which can happen when these things are Ttaking so long to get through, but at least I'm finishing this up before the next festival, which is a first for 2015. Some crazy catch-up to get done before Fantasia swallows everything; here's hoping that's possible.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

* * * 1/2 (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; from the start, it's got a seeming tendency to be glib and self-aware in a way that doesn't always do it many favors. That's why it must eventually be relentless in making those properties work for it, and while I don't really see enough teen-oriented movies that I can conclusively say that this is one of the best in recent memory, it's both impressively well-intentioned and entertaining, and not a whole lot of movies for any demographic manage both at once.

"Me", in this case, refers to Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), just starting his senior year of high school, where he had made a concerted effort to stay on speaking terms with all groups but not part of any; he even refers to his best friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) as his "colleague" (they shoot silly sort films together). Now, though, his mother (Connie Britton) has told him that Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a girl in his class he hadn't spoken to in years, has cancer, and he's to go spend some time with her. He's none too enthusiastic, but she turns out to be nice, and actually kind of fun when they are able to get their minds off this horrible thing hanging over her.

We see that quickly - the first scene with just Greg and Rachel is one of the film's best. It starts out as this really miserable, uncomfortable thing, two people stuck in a situation that is obviously uncomfortable, but also kind of insulting to them, and in a way the fact that they're both kind of annoyed with being thrown together is what lets them get to the point where they're demonstrating the same sort of sense of humor and throwing their awkward jokes back at each other. It takes very little time to see Rachel as more than a plot device and Greg as more than the too-clever creation of an adult writer.

Full review on EFC.

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