I was apprehensive about seeing this 2015 festival favourite from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon based on Jesse Andrews’ novel. It was another film about teenagers and cancer, like that Fault In Our Stars thing that I actively avoided a while back. Call me cold-hearted but I have no interest in two kids falling in love before dying melodramatically under a pop soundtrack. But this one was free, so I thought it couldn’t hurt.
And boy, am I glad I gave it a chance! The movie follows high school senior Greg (Thomas Mann) as he blends perfectly into the background managing to avoid the attention of every group in the school. His parents are a couple of odd-balls and his friend (or “co-worker” as Greg prefers) Earl, played by RJ Cyler, seems to have nothing in common with him, other than a love for movies. They make their own awful, pun-laden remakes just like I did when I was their age.
When classmate and vague acquaintance Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukaemia Greg’s mother all but forces him to hang out with her, for company. Reluctantly, Greg gets past Rachel’s amorous, tiddly, suffering mum to the awkward safety of Rachel’s room where friendship blossoms. This isn’t a romance, as Greg keeps telling us. This is a film about friends and selfishness and unappreciated creativity. Filled with hilarious moments of gentleness, cloaked in warmth and melancholy sadness, something this “cancer film” isn’t is mawkish, morbid or exploitative.
The film isn’t about much, other than three thrown-together friends doing their best to fill the boring, dwindling days before a tragedy they all expect but never mention. Stand-out scenes – when described in summary – read like substandard American Pie sequel set-pieces, but don’t let that put you off: You won’t see funnier then Greg and Earl accidentally on drugs, or sweeter than the terrible movies they make (“Eyes Wide Butt” anyone?). The film is a joy.
The performances from the Main Three are superbly understated. Cooke’s “dying girl” is heartbreaking without ever being manipulative. The changes she instils in Mann’s self-hating teen nobody “Me” happen almost without you noticing. Cyler’s “Earl” is the perfect third wheel; the director of Greg and Rachel’s own little real-life film. I was thrilled with each and every performance in the movie. You couldn’t get better.
If you’re looking for a story that’s happy to let expansive, exploratory dialogue and hard-hitting, meaningful setting slide to the wayside in favour of a more realistic mundanity and awkwardness then this is the film for you. There’s no need for snappy back-and-forth it-means-something-to-us secret greetings when you’ve got the ability to devolve into a subhuman state when things get too much. Sometimes pretending to die is all you need to do to take the edge off the real thing.
I adored “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl”. There’s nothing over the top about it. There’s nothing manipulative or mawkish. Every beat of the story takes you closer to an inevitable end and yet you still trust what you’re told! That’s the power of the characters in this beautiful, ugly gem. Outstanding. Please see it when you can.