Overview: The film follows Greg, a high school senior and filmmaker who sees friendship as a diplomatic trial, and his best friend (but he won’t ever say it) Earl, as they befriend a family friend but otherwise stranger, Rachel after she is afflicted with Leukemia. Fox Searchlight, 2015; Rated PG-13; 104 minutes
Not a Love Story, but Filled With Love: What starts out as a friendship between two people who don’t really like themselves, founded on maternal nagging, slowly and beautifully becomes kindled as they start warming up to each other and inciting change in each other’s lives. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is more about Greg than it is about his dying girl, capturing his transformation from a self-pitying, self-conscious child, roaming the labyrinthine halls of his school trying to stay invisible, to (as cheesy as this sounds) a man, more matured.
A Refreshing Take on a Stale Drama: Completely rejecting the notions that the high school drama genre usually brings with it, the film abstains from any phony quirk, cheesy romance, and does not bother with the over-sentimentality. The emotions conveyed all feel real, laced with an ineffable authenticity, allowing us to connect with the characters on a more personal level than would be allowed if we were just mere spectators in a romance. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon makes us fall for these characters immensely without making them fall in love with each other, and that is a very difficult and commendable thing to do in this society that so craves on romance.
From the opening shots, of a skinny, pale, writer’s-block afflicted Greg, the film sets its tone perfectly. It reels you in with an immeasurable visual charm that doesn’t cease to captivate throughout. This cinematography stays consistently fascinating; in every scene, there is always so much detail to pay attention to: the way characters move or are positioned, the way the camera often divides the screen into two quadrants, as if it were delivering us the choice between two roads.
This charm does not only exist visually. It is also embodied by the film’s performances, which feel less like actual performances and more like reality. Thomas Mann is hilarious as our protagonist, portraying his what would normally be considered obnoxiously quirky in a natural way that makes him more lovable than anything else. He offers a glimpse of self-loathing behind his mask of humor and haphazardness, and does so without skimming on any emotion. Olivia Cooke gives a powerful performance as Rachel, channeling the pure and resonating feeling of hopelessness and defeat. But her character doesn’t seem all that depressing, but rather, beautiful, in her own way. It would be rude for me to praise the acting without mentioning RJ Cyler, whose Earl steals a lot of the scenes that he is in with his humor, while simultaneously keeping Greg grounded and realistic. The way these actors, who will undoubtedly become stars in the future, handle the content really raises the bar for films that cater to a single demographic. Moviegoers of all generations will be transported back to high school and even if they don’t, they’ll still end up in stitches, one way or another.
Cinephile Paradise: The film is also a fun homage to cinema. Apart from Greg’s favorite Nosferatu shirt, the walls line with Criterion posters, blurry cases lay barely noticeable in the bookshelves sitting in the backdrop, and classic films are parodied in some of the best and funniest ways possible. See My Dinner with Andre The Giant or the Sockwork Orange, or any one of the other 42 homemade spines on the shelf in Greg’s bedroom.
Conclusion: If you’re in high school and encountering similar themes, you will love this film. If you are a fan of classic films, you will love this film. If you have any heart at all, any capacity for empathy, you will love Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.