Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Massam Holden
Plot: Greg (Mann) is a high-schooler who along with his best friend Earl (Cyler) share a love of cinema which they celebrate through their movie parodies. Things change for him though when he is forced to befriend Rachel (Cooke) a classmate and former childhood friend who has recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Review: What happened to the American indie? Once a sub-genre which showed such promise and originality only to disappear almost as quickly as it exploded into the movie watching conscious. Perhaps it could be traced to the rise of Mumblecore which saw film student hipsters believing that every thought which tumbled out of their heads and should be preserved on screen as what could be mistaken as a pretentious attempt to clone “Clerks” or “Slacker”. Whatever it was it was with the one two punch of this film and “Dope” I was honestly left feeling as the credits rolled on this film that perhaps we are starting to see the genre rise once more.
Of course I missed this film during its original release no doubt thanks to overwelming presence of the more minor sick teen girl film “Fault In Thier Stars” and meaning that I am of course only now catching it now following a recommendation from both Jess (French Toast Sunday) and Kim (Tranquil Dreams / Game Warp) that I should watch it.
Right from the start its established that Greg is something of an outsider as he refers to best friend Earl as being his “co-worker” and even though he still views other people at his school of being more of an outsider than himself such as the white wannabe rapper Ill Phil (Holden) as he is happy just doing his own thing than joining one of the social cliques. This outsider feeling is equally carried across in his love for classic cinema which refreshingly isn’t some “Dawson's Creek” style trope where they spend the film over analysing cinema for deeper meanings but instead just for the sheer enjoyment of these films after being introduced to them as kids by Greg’s father (Offerman) and more importantly the ability to parody them.
These parody films are shot in a style reminiscent of “Be Kind Rewind” as they rework the titles to fit in with their unique reinterpretation for these films, in turn giving us such wonderful random hints of these films they are making from the brief clips we see from the likes of “A Sockwork Orange” (A Clockwork Orange) and “2.48pm Cowboy” (Midnight Cowboy) with no genre or director seemingly safe from their satirical eye as we see Greg imitating Herzog in “Burden of Dreams” or as they rename it “Burden of Screams”. These moments providing a fun sub-plot throughout the film while nicely setting up the finale.
While the main meat of the film unsurprisingly is in the relationship between Greg and Rachel this is not a love story in any shape or form, but instead refreshing about the friendship they share and how she shapes his outlook forcing him to deal once more with the world around him, rather than shutting it out as he currently has been doing when we first meet Greg as he believes that it will save him having to deal with it. The pair despite their initial reservations at essentially being forced to hang out together soon fading as they discover that this might have more in common than they first thought.
Because of the platonic nature of their relationship we never have this fear that she will be what breaks up the Greg and Earl’s friendship as she instead becomes this hip edition to their group as she handles her hair loss by donning a bubblegum pink wig. Credit going to Cooke who actually shaved her head for the role and even though we can see she is getting sicker as the film goes on, we still have a contradictory narration from Greg who assures she is going to live, which of course does little to stop us still being put through the wringer towards the end of this film. Gomez-Rejon showing a quirky confidence behind the camera which makes it only the more surprising that coming off “American Horror Story” that he’d been hiding this almost Wes Anderson style world view and which is certainly present here, while still retaining enough of his own originality to not make it seem like a clone of Anderson’s style.
The young cast are all equally fantastic with Mann convincingly able to pull of the narration which is so essentially the backbone to the film. At the same time the supporting cast as equally strong with Rachel’s mother (Shannon) choosing to handle her daughter’s illness through the bottom of a bottle, while Greg’s own home life is none the less fractured with his oddball psychiatrist father working through more than a few problems of his own, while the almost monologue style of speech he uses makes the casting of Nick Offermann only the more perfect.
A film which truly reminds me of the golden period of the American Indie scene (99-04) as here we get a story and plotting which actually feels fresh and original and most importantly free from being burred under an avalance of Smaltz that it might have been as a mainstream feature. Hopfully this is a sign of things to come as I for one certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more films like this than another “Hannah Climbs the Stairs.