A challenging dramedy in more ways than one. A promising cast reprieve a surprisingly patchy affair.
High schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cryler), finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate (Olivia Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
I’m not going to lie. I was left wanting and a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s highly watchable BUT the tone and pace was all over the place.
From the strange opening sequence, I was scratching my head. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the Jesse Andrews novel. This film has certainly made me want to seek it out. Just to see if I was missing out on something.
The strange animation reminded me of a Wes Anderson pic. Never a bad thing. We watch as an animated Greg chomps spaghetti while the “hot girl from Pussy Riot” serenades him by playing the harp. In a nutshell, we were being introduced to the quirky inner workings of Greg’s mind. The social outcast. The narrator of the story.
Very strange. BUT intriguing. We watch this crafty chameleon who does his best to blend in with all the social groups; the drama people, the goths, etc. Just enough to keep everyone at bay. I could relate to Greg in more ways than one. Hiding in a film fortress with his “work colleague” Earl.
Thomas Mann was very good as Greg and delivered the role with enough wit, charm and charisma. It made for easygoing viewing as we delved into Greg’s set up. Unable to call Earl a friend with the fear he might reject the label.
Once Cryler was given the opportunity to shine, he delivered. It took a while for Earl to make a mark. Reduced to muttering the word “titties” BUT once the film got going, they made a great duo.
You may remember Olivia Cooke from the hit show, Bates Motel. She was fantastic as Rachel. She delivered a sterling performance and worked well with Mann. The pair had great chemistry.
I loved the classic film references. The nods to François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard ticked all the boxes for the cinephile in me. The funny play on titles was a nice touch. A Sockwork Orange being a particular highlight.
The film video segments reminded me very much of Be Kind Rewind. A surreal mish mesh of Gondry meets Anderson. Low budget indie madness. BUT unfortunately like it’s counterpart, it seemed to suffer from the same flaws.
The tone was very testing. Charming and funny in one instant with Greg’s verbal diarrhea inevitably putting him into more awkward situations and then dreadfully slow and dark the next. Most notably when Rachel’s condition deteriorates.
There’s no easy way to capture an illness and the effects. It was a testing cross examination as we see Rachel’s smile and health fade. Greg doing everything he can to try and keep things quirky and light.
The hour marker certainly took the easygoing pace down a notch as tempers flared and decisions were made. It was acted well and made for engaging drama in parts. BUT the pace hampered an intriguing piece.
What didn’t help was the fact that the little films took the attention away from the actual story between the three friends. I understand that the film making was Greg’s way of coping with life BUT it went on too long. And the final film the pair made for Rachel was a load of rubbish in my opinion.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon didn’t make full use of the fantastic supporting cast. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) didn’t do a bad job as the chilled history teacher. An incident involving the lads and some soup led to some funny moments.
Molly Shannon’s cougar making advances at the two young men was a mixed bag for me. I found the whole thing strangely uncomfortable. Supplying them with booze and flirting with Greg. Weird.
I wish there was more of Bobb’e J. Thompson as Earl’s brother, Derrick. And cudos to Karriem Sami who managed to make a memorable impression in 30 seconds as the limo driver. That’s all I’m saying on that one. Oh and the Hugh Jackman scene. Brilliant.
Connie Britton was wasted in her role as Greg’s Mom. I know that the parents were never to be the focal point of this piece. BUT with such talented actors portraying good characters, it would have been nice to seen more of them. She set Greg’s story in motion and then only reappeared in the final scenes.
Nick Offerman’s trippy tenured father was very hit and miss for me. Offering a cat to console Greg as he attempts to break bad news . . . Yes. Waffling on about obscure grub. NOT so much.
The closing moments made for tough viewing. Even for the cynic in me. It struck a lump in my throat as Greg struggles with school, life and the possibility of losing a friend he never expected to have.
I felt the final third got increasingly serious and killed the buzz that had helped zipped the film along. And the ending was quite abrupt for me. It just ended.
BUT luckily, good characters, great acting and good moments still make this one to watch. BUT the strange style and uneven pacing hampered something that could have been so much more.