Whether or not you engage with “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” will depend a lot on how receptive you are to its twee, ironic hipsteresque conceits and the energetic, restless camera work of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a semi-pretentious Instagram filter brought to glorious four-dimensional life because under all the affections and heavy-handed quirkiness is a wonderfully touching story and some great performances from the young leads.
Greg (Thomas Mann), a bright but introverted and detached young man, has spent his high school life working to remain neutral and on peaceable terms with the swirling tribal melting pot of every day high school life, preferring the company on his one friend co-worker, Earl (RJ Cyler). Together, the boys have grown up making affection parodies of their favourite avant-garde and foreign language films. When Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl in Greg’s class, is diagnosed with leukaemia Greg’s mother forces him to visit her, beginning an unusual and ultimately transformational friendship for them both.
Adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own novel, I was a little disappointed to discover this was an adaptation rather than an original screen play mainly because the love of film and cinema is infused throughout the story, providing both comic flights of fancy and a focal point for the characters to revolve around.
Thomas Mann is superb as Greg, and it is his journey that we are following rather than Rachel’s illness, his struggles to open up to the world around him punctuated by his occasionally fourth-wall breaking narration and captioning. The film achieves a nice balance between the comedy and the more maudlin facets of the story, ensuring that it never slips into tragic melodrama or Lifetime movie-style heartbreak. Olivia Cooke is tremendous (in a role that alarmingly could have gone to Emma Roberts), giving Emily a quiet strength and genuine sweetness she deals not only with her illness but also her deepening friendship with Greg without straying into manic pixie dream girl territory. Refreshingly, this is not a story of doomed romance – Greg goes out of his way to tell you ‘it’s not that kind of story’ – but of self-discovery and coming of age, with RJ Cyler’s Earl acting as the no-nonsense, blunt voice of reason for both of them. There are great supporting turns from Jon Bernthal, Molly Shannon and a fantastically offbeat and dishevelled Nick Offerman but it’s the three youngsters who keep your attention.
Whimsical, frequently laugh-out-loud funny and tenderly insightful, “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” is much, much more than simply another entry in the burgeoning ‘dying teen’ genre. As a portrait of growing up and coming-of-age, it’s a poignant triumph, rising above its self-aware introspection and achieving a real, meaningful connection.