The title – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl screams indie movie. However, you shouldn’t let that turn you off. This Sundance critic and audience award winner provides some of the best cinematic laughs of the year.
The “Me” in the story is actually named Greg (Thomas Mann). He and Earl (RJ Cyler) have been associates since childhood. Greg cannot call Earl his best friend because Greg has an issue with being permanently identified in any particular social group. His only interest is in flying under the radar until high school ends. Greg and Earl spend their days making terribly-filmed remakes of classic films and impersonating Werner Herzog.
Greg’s ambivalent lifestyle is interrupted when his mom (Connie Britton) guilts him into being friends with a girl in the neighborhood that was just diagnosed with Leukemia. Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is that titular dying girl.
This isn’t just another cancer movie. The Fault in Our Stars did enough to sucker punch you into apathy. Cancer is not used to propel these teenagers into living their lives to the fullest or becoming completely self aware. (A certain character named Gus in FIOS comes to mind. “I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of oblivion.”) Basically, these are teenagers that don’t feel like they’re reading a script written by a 40 year old. These teens act and think like teens should. The slow process of cancer is given a sense of reality and Greg actually distances himself from Rachel when he feels inadequate about how to treat her.
The first half of the movie provides a look into the mind of this aspiring filmmaker who doesn’t know where he fits. The story, as he narrates, is told in a series of tongue-in-cheek chapters. The format is very similar to 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. Greg keeps reminding the audience about it’s “Day 78 of the Doomed Friendship,” for example.
There are also homages to Better Off Dead, as Greg talks about a girl who he’s always pined for. He relates their relationship to a mouse and a moose. This is when the movie transitions to a stop-motion diorama of the moose and the mouse. Every time this girl rubs his arm or grabs his shoulder, he likens it to the moose unknowingly trampling the mouse, but never hearing the squeak.
Every character goes through several turns throughout the film. Greg’s selfishness makes him unlikable at times. Earl, who generally lets Greg live in his comfort zone, is able to define Greg’s insecurities. The storyline with Rachel never gets into the romantic angle, fortunately. She is a teen who has to deal with sickness and who she decides to let into her life. Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal round out a solid supporting cast that help make this movie what it needs to be.
The key behind Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is that it feels genuine.
Yes, the overwhelming indie vibe may turn off more than a few theater-goers, but I feel that we can all relate to this movie. Whether it’s by laughing at high school cliques, teenage awkwardness or dealing with sickness. It’s coincidental that Inside Out releases today. I would have loved to see the inner workings of these character’s brains. If you want to see a movie with actual human emotions, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the movie to see. A-