By Cole Cahill
The worst part about Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is its title. It is a sad fact that many moviegoers would not want to see a movie with such a morbid name. The film sounds depressing and sappy, especially in the context of its “teen” genre. Many see a cute girl with cancer and her quirky male friend and assume this movie is some kind of The Fault In Our Stars rip-off. Been there, done that, they may say.
It really is a sad fact because this movie, with its Wes Anderson-esque direction, John Hughes-like themes, and indie-style humor is completely original; it’s the farthest thing from a TFIOS rip off.
Thomas Mann stars as Greg Gaines, a high school senior and cinema aficionado whose pastimes include making films with his friend Earl (RJ Cyler). When his mother (Connie Britton of Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story fame) and father (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation) tell him that his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) contracted leukemia, Greg’s mother urges him to visit Rachel. Though reluctant at first, Greg and Rachel become friends and support each other as they navigate high school, made infinitely more difficult by her cancer.
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl has no tirelessly cliched high school tropes, no cancer sob story, and no romantic subplot within 50 miles of its script. It deals with coming of age, friendship, and cancer in a way that is undeniably real. Rachel’s illness feels genuine and painful, instead of romanticized. The relationships between characters are natural. The movie has heart without ever reaching mushy territory.
This film is also humorous, despite the death in its headline. Some scenes rival those from revered comedies, and are especially funny for high schoolers who can relate to the situations presented. Earl’s character in particular has incredibly witty one-liners and jokes, but he is so much more than token comedic relief. Though not the story’s main focus, Earl’s struggles are woven throughout scenes and make him a dynamic character.
Similarly, the more minor characters in this film are also sincere: Greg’s father, an introverted professor and lover of strange, exotic foods; his tattooed history teacher whose office is home to Greg and Earl during lunch; and Rachel’s single mother, infatuated with Greg and white wine, struggling to cope with her daughter’s illness. No character in this movie is purely a plot device – every single one adds personality to the film.
Every part of this movie is multi-faceted and lifelike, from the disparity of living with cancer, to Greg and Earl’s absurd projects, to the location of the film itself: Pittsburgh forms the perfect backdrop to each character’s development. The characters don’t feel like devices in a script – they feel like real people living real lives dealing with real problems. It is genuinely devastating that people will write this movie off because its title has the words “dying girl” in it. Me and Earl And The Dying Girl is more than a movie about a girl with cancer; it’s an honest movie about an entire cast of characters and their lives.