This film is based on the 2012 novel by Jesse Andrews (who also wrote the script), and is directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. It was a big hit at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. It is creative, quirky, and never seems to do what you expect it to do, which was refreshing.
The film is primarily about Greg (Thomas Mann) and his senior year of high school. Greg serves as narrator throughout the film. He recognizes different “nations” (groups) of kids in his class, such as jocks, stoners, theatre dorks, etc., something we can all relate to. His plan is to be casually friendly to all, but a part of none of them. He’s there, but not really. He’s just trying to survive his senior year by being off the radar – invisible. He’s insecure and thinks he’s ugly.
The only classmate who really knows him is his only true friend Earl (RJ Cyler), who provides comic relief (as well as much of the profanity) in the film. They have been best friends since kindergarten, though the socially uncomfortable (hard not to be in high school) and self-centered Greg refers to him as his co-worker, unwilling to even call him his friend.
Greg and Earl love old movies and have made forty or so parodies of them with titles like A Sockwork Orange. The parts of the film showing their awful films are funny and creative.
Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) asks, more like tells, Greg to go visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke) a girl from school he is familiar with, but doesn’t really know (because Greg doesn’t really know anyone except Earl). Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia, and he is told to go cheer her up. He doesn’t want to go, but he does to get his mom off his case.
Greg is greeted by Rachel’s mom Denise (Molly Shannon) who lustily hugs him, and has a drink in her hand in almost every scene in the film as she tries to deal with her daughter’s illness. Rachel’s parents are divorced, and her father, who is now deceased, was never a big part of her life. Greg doesn’t really want to be there, and Rachel doesn’t want him there – and thus starts their relationship.
The relationship between Greg and Rachel is awkward at first, to say the least. As her illness progresses and she loses her hair from the chemotherapy they slowly become friends. For perhaps the first time, Greg focuses his attention on someone other than himself.
I found myself emotionally relieved when Greg tells us that Rachel will survive – she won’t die. So will they become boyfriend and girlfriend, get married and live happily ever after? Sorry, I’m not telling. That would be called a spoiler.
Nick Offerman plays Greg’s father. He is a strange character always at home in a robe offering Greg and Earl exotic foods. Katherine C. Hughes plays Madison, the hot girl at school that Greg has a crush on. The film features a creative animation every time she talks to Greg. Jon Bernthal plays Mr. McCarthy, a history teacher that Greg and Earl eat lunch and watch movies with in his office each day.
The film includes a fair amount of adult language and sexual dialogue, and the characters unfortunately abuse God’s and Jesus’ names a significant number of times. Rachel’s family is Jewish, but you don’t see their faith impacting their lives in any way. Much of the inappropriate language comes from Earl, but I thought he was an excellent example of what a friend should be.
I appreciated the uniqueness of this film. There were many details, such as camera angles that I appreciated. It’s not a perfect film, and parts will be offensive to some, others depressing, but it’s also a film that will impact you, and you’ll want to talk about afterwards with those who have seen it with you.