Starring: Thomas Mann (Project X), RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke (Ouija), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Connie Britton (American Ultra), Molly Shannon (Analyse This), Katherine C. Hughes (Men, Women & Children), Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown)
Writer: Jesse Andrews
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Release Date: 12 June (US), 4 September (UK)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is so simple that it’s actually hard to describe without sounding like I’m struggling for words (because I kind of am). That has nothing to do with the quality of the film which, to quickly get it out of the way, is absolutely wonderful. What I mean is that it’s hard to explain how such an unassuming little indie flick can actually seem much more than that when everything I come up with to explain why it’s so good in this opening statement just makes it seem like an unassuming little indie flick. I feel like I should just stop there and tell you to go watch it, but I’ve already started writing so I might as well at least try.
If I wanted to unimaginatively narrow in explaining what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is, I’d say it’s The Fault in Our Stars mixed with Be Kind Rewind. It’s an inadequate description that makes it seem unoriginal, but the main point being that it’s like those movies but better than both of them combined. I like The Fault in Our Stars, but as much as the movie wants to convince you it’s totally sincere there are parts that come off as totally saccharine (I’m looking at you, Augustus “Quirky Cute Mr. Perfect” Waters). Here, there isn’t a speck of sappiness or fantasy. It’s harsh reality, but not one without joy and hope. There’s an air of typical indie movie quirk to the whole thing, but none of it ever feels like an affectation to make the movie look more hip. It’s a movie about making movies that constantly references classic movies, but it never feels the need to be too clever or pretentious about it (maybe because the characters themselves know that their movies suck). It’s not really just a film about friendship or death, but a perfect summation of the mentality of a high schooler, flaws and all. In that regard, it reminded me of a lot of John Hughes’ work (especially The Breakfast Club), but it never ever feels like a pale imitation of his formula like so many other teen movies are.
What really sells Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are the fantastic performances from the entire cast, especially the three main leads. Like the story, these characters are seemingly average on the surface but reveal far deeper layers underneath; they’re stock movie characters, yes, but ones that feel like they could exist in our world. Thomas Mann has been around for a while but he’s never gotten a chance to dig his teeth into a role until now. His role as Greg seems like the typical high school outcast on the surface, but ultimately he’s a far more complex individual than that; he can be weird, even outright despicable from a certain point of view, but it never fails to keep him sympathetic. RJ Cyler’s Earl at first looks like he’s just going to be the funny sidekick, but his friendship with Greg is a fascinating subject that even they don’t fully comprehend and the way the film explores what friendship truly is is where the real heart of story comes from. Olivia Cooke is a stunning revelation as Rachel, the eponymous dying girl herself. She’s melancholy and bitter, but never in a way that feels spiteful; she’s just a girl going through an understandably traumatic experience that no one else she knows truly understands. Her and Mann’s chemistry is simply captivating in its sincere awkwardness, and the fact they never go down the romantic route (which the film constantly reminds us it will not do) is nonetheless refreshing. Nick Offerman is still the monotone ball of humour that he usually is and his role as Mann’s bizarre stay-at-home dad fits nicely in with his filmography, and Connie Britton as his mother is nagging and overly concerned in all the right ways. Molly Shannon’s performance as Cooke’s wino mother feels a little obvious a characterisation, but again they never go too far with it; a scene where Mann interviews her for a movie he’s making is really quite touching. Jon Bernthal’s small role as a high school history teacher is a surprisingly good change of pace from his usual persona, and holy sh*t when did Bobb’e J. Thompson suddenly get so big?
If that fact that this movie is so good that I can barely comprehend why I loved it so much doesn’t give you any indication of my opinion, then clearly either this review is far more rambling, incoherent and repetitive than I thought or you didn’t even bother to read it. Despite being cobbled together from so many familiar pieces, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl feels wholly unique and is one of the best movies of the year. It’s deceptively simple, and that’s maybe why I’m having such a hard time telling you why it’s so amazing. Maybe I’m just so attached to it because I see so much of myself in it, but I believe lots and lots of people are going to find something they can relate to here. This is probably a weird description, but the best way I can sum it up is that it’s a movie that feels real whilst never forgetting that it’s a movie. Does that make sense to anyone other than me? Ah f*ck it, just go watch the movie yourself and hopefully you’ll get what I’m talking about.
FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!