Director Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, an adaption from screenwriter Jesse Andrews’ own debut novel, is just like its title. It is honest and straightforward. The film succeeds in being a funny, yet moving, coming-of-age story touching upon some serious themes as terminal illness and true friendship without ever becoming an American high school cliché.
The story revolves around the somewhat awkward high school student Greg (Thomas Mann), forced by his mom to befriend his neighbour and fellow student Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. What Greg himself calls a “doomed friendship” seems eventually to be exactly what the somewhat quirky teenager needs to get out of his comfortable and deliberate distance from other students.
That is, except for Earl, his so-called “co-worker” but in fact best friend, with whom he makes the strangest but wittiest amateur film adaptions of their favourite films (with names like The Sockwork Orange and Senior Citizen Kane these alone are already a reason to watch the film). Even though Earl seems a rather two-dimensional character, as the stereotypical black youngster from a rougher neighbourhood who knows how to fight and says “titties” a lot, there is a lot more to him. Behind a façade of casual behaviour is a guy who is in many ways much more mature than Greg, steering him in the right direction during the story.
While the film does portray some of the high school stereotypes (be prepared for a very Mean Girls-like portrayal of the school canteen and its cliques), it simultaneously seems to undermine many of them. Mann and Cooke both deliver original and powerful performances while beating the film trope of the sick girl and the boy who falls hopelessly in love with her (as Greg already states in the beginning: this is not a love story). But, it’s not just these two at the centre who do good work. Many of the other characters, including the somewhat odd parents and the cool history teacher, succeed in tackling the clichés of their roles while maintaining their humour.
Just like its story, the film’s look is delightfully original with its artistic framing, unexpected camera movements and hilarious bits of stop-motion animation (showing a chipmunk being mercilessly trampled by a moose, symbolising Greg’s theory that “hot girls destroy your life”). As the film takes Greg’s perspective, its creative camerawork suits very well with the story’s constant shifting between reality and imagination.
Ultimately, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a sincere and thoughtful film about the meaning of friendship, carried by its loveable characters and remarkable look. Sometimes hilariously funny, other times brutally honest, it’s both recognisable and heart-breaking at the same time, confronting the audience with a rollercoaster of emotions without ever becoming soppy. That said – keep your Kleenex close, there will be tears. Some of laughter. Most of uncontrollable crying. I warned you.