In an age when young adult films are dominated supernatural romance garbage and sex comedies, it’s refreshing to see Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews, who also penned the screenplay. With a superb cast, sweet charm, touching drama and plenty of witty laughs, it’s a bittersweet coming-of-age story that cleverly tricks you into thinking that you’re not being manipulated because of an apparent avoidance of genre cliches.
The protagonist, Greg (Thomas Mann), is a high schooler who prides himself in not being a part of any cliques and can stay on friendly terms with anyone and everyone. His best friend — and only close friend — is Earl (RJ Cyler), and together they have been making short film parodies of famous classics for years using creative low budget techniques. Everything changes, however, when Greg is forced by his eccentric parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a former childhood friend who had been diagnosed with an illness.
Before you go there, allow me to set things straight. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is not a tear-jerking love story in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, it feels like writer Jesse Andrews intentionally tried to steer away from such a storyline. The film is more in the ball park of John Green’s other film adaptation, Paper Towns (which was somewhat meh) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (one of my fave films of 2012), though it’s lighter on romance and heavier on humour, especially of the dry, self-deprecating kind.
There’s plenty of things I liked about this film: the likable central characters, the amazingly clever short films they created, Greg’s weird-ass father, Rachel’s hilarious mother (Molly Shannon), and the very cool teacher played by Jon Bernthal. I liked how determined it was to veer away from melodrama and the saccharine, without losing any of its charm or wackines. It has just the right amount of adolescence — for once the teens in a movie look like teens and act like teens and have teen issues and problems.
The performances are top notch across the board, and much of the credit must go to the perfect casting. I hated Project X with a passion, though Thomas Mann was one of the things I didn’t loathe about it. Since then he has really done a lot of good work, including in The Stanford Prison Experiment and being the bright spots in mediocre features like Barely Lethal and Beautiful Creatures. He’s going to be seen next year in Kong: Skull Island, the reboot of the King Kong franchise that will culminate in a showdown with Godzilla.
Olivia Cooke is an underrated up-and-coming actress I’ve kept my eye on. She’s mainly known for horror up to this stage of her career (Ouija, The Quiet Ones, The Signal and TV’s Bates Motel) but her screen presence and acting chops suggest to me that she will catch a big break sooner or later. Same goes for RJ Cyler, who has reportedly been cast as the Blue Power Ranger in the upcoming Power Rangers flick.
I didn’t have any real complaints about the film. The pace probably could have been swifter for a 105-minute film and resorts to more conventional genre tactics as it nears its conclusion, though my primary gripe — if it can be called that — is that it’s not quite as emotionally affecting as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps after all that effort to keep the tone light and unsentimental also somehow sapped it of the deeper poignancy that a film like The Perks of Being a Wallflower had hit me with.
On the whole, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a sweet little film, well-written and superbly executed by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (best known for directing episodes of Glee and American Horror Story). I laughed often and enjoyed it a lot, though in my opinion it still falls a few steps short of the memorable classic it was aiming to be.
4 stars out of 5