In Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, self-deprecating loner teen Greg (Thomas Mann) begrudgingly befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate who has been recently diagnosed with stage four leukemia. Throughout the course of his senior year, the somewhat selfish and self-absorbed youth grows to care for the titular dying girl.
The film, coming off the heels of last year’s The Fault In Our Stars, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is cashing in on the young-adult terminal-illness tearjerker novel adaptation genre. It also utilizes the overdone trope of quirky, status quo shirking teen characters. That being said, most of the time this script avoids the pitfalls of such grating archetypes. Greg and Earl (Ronald Cyler II) are counter-culture cinephiles who make pun-induced parodies of famous films (i.e. A Sockwork Orange and A-Box-of-‘Lips Wow). This is probably the best part of the characters: the numerous nods to (arguably better) films, particularly those of Werner Herzog.
At times, this movie is able to get past its quirkiness to become truly emotionally resonant. However, this shifts in the third act. The last 30 minutes of this film is an attempt to elicit the most tears possible from the audience, and it is not much more than that. It is as if the filmmaker is collecting all of the tears for some evil genius plot (or the studio execs are trying to collect audience’s money for…well, some evil genius plot). The first emotional shockwave during the denoument lands fairly well. Then, there is another blow. Then another. And another. Voiceoever after voiceover pick up where the visual cry grabs leave off. With each new attempt to make me cry, I became further detached from the moment. Eventually, I was trying not to laugh at the absurdity of what could work just as well as a satirical joke of itself.
Aside from this ending, the film provides some good emotional moments, as well as many moments of funny dialogue. Mann gives a strong lead performance, as does Cooke. Stealing the show, however, is Cyler II, whose cuss-laden best friend sidekick character Earl is played with promise.
There isn’t anything stellar with the filmography itself, save for some unnecessary extreme canted angles and effective use of an animated squirrel and moose combo. Again, the best filmic parts occur during the kids’ remade movies, where there are shot-for-shot remakes of famous film scenes.
Overall, this film is a strong addition to the YA genre, but it is not without fault. Writing and acting complement to make quirky comedic scenes. The acting ensemble is strong, but it doesn’t save some awkward emotional moments. There is nothing profoundly exciting or new with this film, but it is worth a watch, especially for fans of young adult melodramas.
I came into this film expecting the supporting cast to steal the show. Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Jon Bernthal make for a stacked call sheet. I was surprised to see the young leads truly lead the show. All three title characters give worthwhile performances. Mann even gives a Werner Herzog impression that gives Paul F Tompkins a run for his money (though, not really. PFT is still the king).
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Me & Earl & The Dying Girl? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)