Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review
First a cult novel, now a charming little feature film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl documents the experience of high school students-turned amateur filmmakers Greg and Earl. The dying girl of the title arrives in the form of understandably standoff-ish Rachel, whom Greg is forced to hang out with by his concerned mother.
Of all three characters described in the title, Thomas Mann as our eponymous hero Greg is the least interesting. Sure, he’s faintly amusing in a self-deprecating, Michael Cera-lite sort of way, but he’s outshone in spades by RJ Cyler as Earl (straight-faced hilarity brought wonderfully to life) and Olivia Cooke as Rachel. It would’ve been so very easy for her to attract the dreaded title of ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’, but that’s not the case: while she might provide Greg with an exhilarating new relationship, she’s always learning new things from him. It’s a friendship of mutual gain between the boy who thinks he has no friends and the girl who didn’t think she needed one more.
These are characters that gradually fight for your affection, especially in the case of Greg, who somehow finds his way into our soft spot despite being a complete loser. Emotional manipulation of the insta-cry variety ala The Fault in Our Stars is sealed away; even when these characters face heartbreak or tragedy, we’re still eager to learn more about them as opposed to squinting wetly at what remains of their life through tear-filled eyes.
Besides our young leads, we’re also gifted some chucklesome asides from Nick Offerman as Greg’s squid-scoffing father, Jon Bernthal’s jacked-up history teacher, plus a cameo from a certain member of the X-Men.
If your only exposure to the film came through the rather whimsical trailer that’s been doing the rounds online (as mine did), it may come as a shock have your sides split so quickly. Within five minutes, the audience is awash with laughter in response to the sheer range of comedy on show. Our dynamic duo’s pun-based, inside-out Criterion collection of films provide a vibrant stream of laughter throughout, as do a smattering of inspired stop-motion tidbits translating sequences of high school life into bizarre animated vignettes. Such recurring snippets of joy are more than welcome in the second half, where straight-up comedy takes a back seat to sombre, emotional beats.
As much as I’m reluctant to admit, downsides do squeeze through the gaps: a muted colour cinematography comes across as a bit ‘ooh, look at me, I’m indie!’, and a slew of minus marks are only just avoided for the rather ponderous epilogue. It’s a very near miss; one assumes it’s down in the rulebook that young-adult illness dramas demand a level of moping, or perhaps the finale feels overdrawn in large contrast to the laugh-heavy opening act.
But none of this can take away how heartening it feels to see a film that is not only in love with its characters, but deeply in love with cinema, too. Just how much of this is inherent in Jesse Andrews’ source novel is a question I can’t answer, but I can speak for what shows up on screen, all of which is wondrous.