Directed by 2012’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake helmsman, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, comes high school dramedy and Sundance favourite, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Based on Jesse Andrews’ novel of the same name, this charmingly quirky anti-teen-romance flick stars Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler.
Greg (Mann) – a socially awkward high schooler on the verge of graduating – is asked by his pushy mum (Connie Britton) to spend time with his cancer-stricken classmate, Rachel (Cooke). An awkward situation is quickly turned on its head as the pair bond, with Rachel taking a particular shine to Greg’s homemade movies – alternative remakes of classic films which he makes with friend/colleague, Earl (Cyler).
Convinced by a school mate to make a movie for their ill pal, the pair of amateur film makers – not used to making films for anybody but themselves – set about putting together something to cheer her up.
“This isn’t a touching, romantic story” the film’s socially awkward male protagonist, Greg, declares. Me and Earl sets its stall out early doors: this isn’t your typical teenage high school sob story that drowns itself in its own cheesy vomit of love, lust and loss, and it is far from the teen cancer weepies that have come before it, like last year’s Andrex endorsed The Fault in Our Stars.
There’s an enjoyable silliness (epitomised by Nick Offerman as Greg’s dressing gown rocking Dad) that lingers over the entire spectacle, yet beneath its quirky exterior – the homemade videos (Sockwork Orange, Senior Citizen Cane) and Hugh Jackman/Wolverine cameos – lies the underpinning coming-of-age tale which comes with the teenage drama territory. Yet it arrives without any of the typical sappiness and is sprinkled with a dose of highly charming humour – and a large chunk of humility – as Rejon’s efforts save us from the usual boorish teen musings that we’re too often served up on an unwanted platter.
Greg – both likeable and extremely relatable – is a character you can get behind. The sole member of his self-declared “nation of one” – he doesn’t have friends, just acquaintances. He even classes his long time film buddy, Earl, as a co-worker rather than a pal. He feels invisible, detached and has a real case of the self-hating blues – all things more and more teens feel in an increasingly hectic world. His relationship with Cooke’s Rachel is sweet, yet far from patronising – acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, whilst refusing to let it turn into another terminal illness cry-fest.
There’s a lot to love and plenty to admire with Me and Earl. At moments it feels like Rejon is stretching the limits of the source novel’s quirkiness, loitering on the precarious borders of style over substance – yet this rather charming, spirited, and occasionally emotional, spectacle is a genre bending winner.