Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, & Olivia Cooke
Film review by Chris Olson
Cancer is a funny thing. Not a line you could usually throw about during a film review, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the most subversive, and funny, teen dramas to have emerged that it seems to fit like a pink wig (a reference to the movie). The film, from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, takes a punt at blurring the delicate lines between a cancer story and a coming-of-age comedy, with ebullient results.
Thomas Mann plays Greg - an island with many allies, he has managed to cultivate a school life existing on the outer edge of nearly all the social cliques, without ever venturing in and planting his flag in any one in particular. This aloofness, as well as a quick comedic tongue, are his survival superpowers. These begin to crumble, though, when a classmate called Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with cancer, and Greg’s mum forces him to be her friend.
Not your typical terminal treatment, though, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl manages to tread a path less trudged, subverting any sense of normality - capturing the unbalancing effect that a situation like this would inevitably create. From the isolated framing of mid-range character shots, to completely upending the scene, Gomez-Rejon never lets the audience feel completely safe, ensuring they stay within the story. Olivia Cooke delivers a nuanced and subtle performance in a role which could otherwise have been overblown tear-jerking.
The film is as much about Greg’s coming to terms with his own shallow existence, as it is about Rachel’s looming leukaemia. And whilst these two cinematic tropes have been dished out separately on numerous occasions in different films, they fit together perfectly within the body of one movie, directly linking between the themes that are raised. Mann’s performance is the glue, a wonderfully charismatic display of huge emotions - whilst trying to remain unemotional.
Another reason to love this movie is its beautiful cinematic touchstones which arise through Greg and his “business partner” Earl (RJ Cyler). The two create spoof movies that pretty much just turn the title of a classic movie into a joke, like “Eyes Wide Butt” or “A Sockwork Orange”, as well as spending a lot of their time in an indie-cinema store. The relationship between these two unlikely friends is as tenuous as their films, providing for a fresh alternative to the typical spew that comes from bro bonds.
What makes a film like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl work is not a one-pill cure-all factor like story or performances. It is an array of coalescing contributions, a cocktail of flavours brought on by a massively talented cast, well chosen music, delicate framing, and an enduring tenderness that manages to avoid being saccharine. That and the fact that Nick Offerman plays Greg’s dad who constantly cuddles their cat called Cat Stevens - that’s enough for anyone to forget about their own mortality.
Watch the movie trailer for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl below...