High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
There’s not been many films with a title as literal as ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ at outlining what it’s all about, but this coming of age hit from Sundance manages to avoid the pitfalls of overt quirkiness to tell a charming story that had me laughing and crying in equal measure. The me of the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), a teenager trying to navigate the treacherous territory of high school by pretending to be everyone’s friend and hiding out in his history teacher’s (Jon Bernthal) office at lunchtime with his friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) to watch Werner Herzog movies (Mann’s impression of Herzog’s fantastic voice is great). In their spare time, Greg and Earl make remakes of arthouse movies, changing the titles slightly to change the tone (such examples are ‘Senior Citizen Cane’, ‘The 400 Bros’ and ‘Rosemary Baby Carrots’), and they regularly bring a smile everytime a title or a clip from one of the films appears on screen. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon straddles several themes and genres effortlessly and the opening half of the film is just really fun to watch.
The ‘Dying Girl’ of the title is Olivia Cooke’s Rachel, a girl in Greg’s class who is diagnosed with leukaemia. Cooke is no stranger to these parts, having played a key character in the TV series ‘Bates Motel’ for three seasons with a life changing illness, and she is wonderful here, conveying a real sense of honesty and humanity and developing real chemistry with Mann and Cyler. She’s one to watch. Greg originally spends time with Rachel because his mum forces him too, but they begin to form a bond over time, with the film cleverly focusing on the friendship angle and not treading the familiar romantic path. The film has gathered a terrific adult cast including Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and the imperious Nick Offerman, and they add to the film in their own ways.
Gomez-Rejon combines a series of clever pop culture references with cut scene animation and a surprisingly insightful script that never panders or preaches, but succeeds at being emotionally devastating and profound nonetheless. The three leads are all excellent, the script is smart and witty, and this is an excellent coming of age film, influenced by the very best. Disappointingly, it doesn’t seem to have done too well in the US and signs aren’t overly positive in the UK either, but I highly recommended it nonetheless.
Directed By: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal