Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, sounds like an upbeat story doesn’t it? But, as you can tell by that superfluous ‘and’ in the title, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is actually a story that wants to make you smile, laugh and then probably cry just a little bit, or a lot, or perhaps feel uplifted. Suffice to say it’s the kind of film that is heavily influenced by movies themselves and as such is something of a love letter to the silver screen and the ways in which it can help ease the pain of life, love and growing up.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who prides himself on having no distinct friends and being part of no clique, but kind of on the periphery of all of them. The reality is he does have one friend in the form of wise beyond his years Earl (RJ Cyler) who he refers to as his co-worker in making their pastiche little short films based on famous titles, so things like A Sockwork Orange and Senior Citizen Cane. But when one of Greg’s classmates Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukaemia Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) insists that he spend some time with her.
Based on the novel, and adapted for the screen, by Jesse Andrews Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is one of the year’s finest. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon takes Andrews’ story and characters to conjure something genuinely magical. It’s a delicate, intimate and honest film that is teeming with a Hal Ashby-come-Wes Anderson sense of humour that is never forced but wonderfully identifiable.
It’s the kind of film that speaks to anyone who has ever been to school, or struggled with their place in the world, or who has ever found it hard to come to terms with the inevitable or ever used self-deprecation as a defence mechanism. There’s something for everyone here, it’s a film that has you sitting there grinning with a nostalgic glow as the light from the projector dances through the darkness in a delightful story of self-discovery.
The first two thirds of the film focus mainly on the relationships and comedy they create. But the final third chooses to really pull on the heartstrings, Greg realising that his neatly arranged existence has essentially allowed him to protect himself and alienate him from really living life to its fullest. Rachel might be dying but she’s teaching Greg to seize the moment while Earl rolls his eyes at his friend not seeing what is going on right in front of him. Greg and Earl’s mini-movies could have easily become too prominent a feature but Gomez-Rejon keeps them on the periphery to his credit, instead allowing them to pepper the film occasionally to laugh inducing levels.
Mann plays Greg with a wonderfully understated delivery, he’s that kid who likes to keep to himself, happy to wallow in his own little world and hope that it doesn’t impact others to cause them to dislike him. Cooke makes Rachel a girl next door with a difference, she’s that little bit edgy, that little bit quirky but painfully delicate. There’s a haunting sense of Rachel watching her life deteriorate before her eyes and the glisten in Cooke’s eyes, as tears frequently build, is one of the film’s most powerful weapons. Meanwhile Cyler quietly steels all of his scenes, often subdued, stoic and quick with a one-worded comeback he’s able to see people for who they really are as he simply gets on with life without complaining or dwelling. All three lead actors deserve this to send them up the list of casting directors around the world.
Arriving in UK cinemas shortly after the similar themed Paper Towns this is a film that takes those themes and demonstrates how to inject them with pathos, warmth and a sense of humour that you want to bottle to warm you on a depressing day. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is brilliant and fantastic and beautiful and you should go and see it as soon as possible.