Winner of the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the story of Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), an awkward high school senior whose mom forces him to spend time with Rachel – a girl in his class Rachel (Olivia Cooke) with whom he hasn’t spoken to since kindergarten – who was just diagnosed with cancer. Based on a novel of the same name, that ultimately is aimed at a teenage audience, the film had the potential to either end up in the abyss of obscurity with a ton of other teen drama movies or flourish into an indie classic for the Juno and 500 days of Summer generation.

My first thought was, oh another sentimental teen drama a la The Fault in our Stars or The Perks of being a Wallflower, all centred on the timelessly relatable and heart wrenching, yet still a little overused and simplistic plot device of terminal illness? How uninspired. It’s hard to not sound harsh saying that, but my point is, yes of course, terminal illness will always tug on your audiences heart strings and is understandably something authors and directors gravitate towards, but irrespective of how good the film is – if that’s your centre piece, there has to be more to what you’re saying and how you’re saying it to your audience – luckily with Me and Earl and the Dying Girls there’s heaps more.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn’t so much about cancer, or its effects. Instead it is about perspectives, friendship and ultimately a coming of age story for three teens from three very different backgrounds with three very different final year at high school in their midst. Yet it still tenderly and sincerely explores what it means to battle against cancer without being swamped with overly emotional scenes. There are plenty of laughs too.

It’s the skewed perspective and quirky attitude that makes this coming of age story so unexpectedly entertaining. Like The Fault in our Stars, there’s a cancer theme, but there’s no undue sentiment and certainly no romance in Jesse Andrew’s screenplay; the film relies on its humour and offbeat characters to drive the narrative.

The tone of the self-hating protagonist Greg, who thrives on being invisible is beautifully set up by narration, where personal angst reveals his mind set and attitude towards relationships. Mann plays a stunning central performance as Greg, he ably portrays the awkward student who struggles to communicate with his best friend and girl with leukaemia: who ultimately ends up being the catalyst for change much to Greg’s surprise.

Though he self-loathes and moans about life [despite being faced with someone who is in an obviously worse off situation] he is still likeable, loveable even. Greg’s character is for everyone who ever felt they didn’t fit in. He explains he has always “carefully crafted his invisibility” whilst remaining “low key friendly” with everyone. He avoids confrontation, he avoids friendship. He has Earl, but as they make offbeat spoof films together, Earl is his colleague, not a friend. Earl is the antithesis of Greg. From a different background and of African American heritage Earl offers a lightness to Greg’s woe is me act. Their friendship is realistic and heart-warming.

Greg is scared to open up and let go as he is certain that what he has to offer is simply not good enough. Although, his self-esteem issues are not annoying or attention seeking but in fact make him rather endearing.

Greg’s first encounter with Rachel is a thing of offbeat beauty. She tells him he doesn’t have to visit her out of pity; he says he’s not visiting her out of pity, he’s visiting her because his mother is making him do it. The film is filled with embarrassingly awkward moments like this that are sweetly reminiscent of how anyone may face the life changing turmoil of a friend who is suddenly struck by illness. Good natured and well-meaning but ultimately not perfect.

Nick Offerman provides deadpan comic relief as Greg’s dad, he loafs around in a bathrobe, whipping up bizarre and foreign food offerings whilst counting the family cat, ‘Cat Stevens’ as his closest friend. Molly Shannon is great as Rachel’s mother, who skirts the line when it comes to Greg and Earl — offering them alcohol and baring her soul to them whilst her hugs broach the line of inappropriate. Katherine C. Hughes does nice work as Madison, the beautiful girl who renders Greg an idiot whenever they cross paths. All of the characters are well established and important throughout the narrative.

From the extreme camera angles in the opening scenes, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon makes clear that this is a story about perspectives. We see life from above; below; left and right. The occasional inclusion of bizarre imagery (by animation) adds an additional element to Greg’s view of his life. The chapter headings, like ‘Day 1 of doomed friendship’, bring a particular outlook that allows us to see life through Greg’s eyes too. These are the tools for the telling of the story that add the indie element that can’t be found in Hollywood blockbusters. Olivia Cooke as Rachel has an elfish prettiness about her that is expected of any indie gal taking centre stage in cinema. The fact that she is ‘the girl with cancer’ is not her only device within the film. Whilst we see her battle through illness and chemotherapy in a realistic and heart breaking and honest way we also see how she gains insight into Greg that nobody else has managed. She helps coax him out of his invisible casing and there is a clear chemistry between them which is nicely accentuated by the fact that their connection is purely platonic.

Funny, thought-provoking and whimsically detailed I definitely urge everyone to see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Movie Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.