Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler
Do not think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is just another teen-with-cancer movie à la last summer’s acceptably pedestrian adaptation of John Green’s excellent The Fault in Our Stars. Though based on yet another work of YA fiction, this one the debut novel of Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the script, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has loads more cinematic style, thanks to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose prior work I am surprisingly familiar with, as he helmed the remake of the horror semi-classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The film was also a big winner at Sundance, where it earned the top honors of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, beating the summer’s other smart teen dramedy, Dope.
The Me in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is high school senior Greg (Thomas Mann, who was one of the few likable pieces of 2012’s Project X). Greg has some seriously low self-esteem, despite what he is told by his mother (Connie Britton) and father (Nick Offerman), best friend/coworker Earl (RJ Cyler) and the dying girl, leukemia-stricken Rachel (Olivia Cooke, who has shone brightly in “Bates Motel” and the too-dreary Brit-horror flick The Quiet Ones). Even his hot girl crush, Madison (Katharine C. Hughes), seems to think he’s pretty great. And cool, tatted teacher Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) must think so if he lets Greg and Earl eat lunch with him every day.
The film has some great hooks for budding and full-grown cinephiles. Greg and Earl make bad versions of classic films (think Be Kind Rewind, but less annoying and more teenaged), which leads them to try to make a film for the dying Rachel. Yes, the film overdoes the hipster, ironic YA thing, though nowhere near as much as, say, Youth in Revolt. The movie has twinges of Wes Anderson twee-ness, but that’s a good thing. Animated asides! An impression of Werner Herzog on the vagaries of high school! They help balance out the pall cast by the impending doom of Greg and Rachel’s friendship.
Though Mann and Cooke get the focus, Cyler may be the breakout. His Earl is laid-back and loyal with a very teenage-boy focus; coupled with Dope’s Shameik Moore, summer 2015 has been gold for young African-American male actors, a trend we hope will continue.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may lack the bestselling hook or hot "it" actress to fill up multiplexes, but it should bloom once it graduates to other distributive outlets.