Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the second feature from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), which is both equally funny and heartfelt, without any clear attempt to manipulate solely through sentimentality. Based on the young adult novel of the same name, and adapted for the screen by its author, Jesse Andrews, this take on the coming-of-age story is quite different to those that most audiences will have seen before.
Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is a narcissistic high-school senior with a strong interest in filmmaking but very little time for making real friends. His only real companion is Earl (RJ Cyler), with whom he makes parodies of old films, although insistently refers to him as merely his ‘co-worker’. When Greg’s parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton) force him to befriend a girl diagnosed with leukemia at school, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), Greg starts to find that being selfless for another is much more rewarding than he had imagined.
Mann is quite a capable leading man, as proven in his first film, Project X, and perfectly captures that youthful awkwardness that most go through. He brings a certain likeability and innocence to Greg that could have easily been lost with another actor. Similarly, Cooke (Bates Motel) brings something special to her performance that, as her condition worsens and her body deteriorates, aims to be much more understated rather than over the top. The two have great chemistry together and, refreshingly, their relationship is platonic, which means it is explored without relying on the standard ‘young love’ tropes.
As for Cyler (Second Chances), the titular third character, he does fairly well with what he is given as Earl, but he is mostly underused and left on the sidelines so that Mann and Cooke can take centre stage. Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Britton (Nashville) fill out the supporting cast and are nice additions to the film, as are Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live), as Rachel’s mother who brings some strong Mrs. Robinson vibes, and Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street), as Greg’s overly cool English teacher.
The film tries very hard to make a statement on one’s teenage years and seems very influenced by filmmakers, like John Hughes, who have tackled the topic previously. The film attempts to include many varying clichés, with a commentary on them that twists the expectations of these familiar characters and situations, but the issue arises that the film is still filled with clichés and relies on them – regardless of its intent. The argument could be made though, that the film derives from Greg’s perspective, and seeing that he was raised on classic films and is an avid filmmaker, it therefore would be skewed towards looking at the world in terms of film clichés.
There’s some clear fun being had behind the camera, with Gomez-Rejon bringing a clear enthusiasm for his craft. The camera rarely seems to pause, and finds itself constantly travelling in some capacity. Whether due to Gomez-Rejon’s energy, or a reflection of Greg’s view of the world, the style suits the narrative well. A number of young adult films have been released in the last few years that tell a coming-of-age story through a terminally-ill teenager, but where this film separates itself from the pack is in its aim to make the audience laugh first before making them cry. The film-parodies that are created by Greg and Earl are quite fun, especially if you’re aware of the content that they are satirizing, and there’s enough film references to keep even the most devoted film fanatic on their toes.
With more than enough laughs, and just as much heart, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl more than warrants a viewing. Be warned though, it may have you laughing one moment and then crying the next.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10