Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (2015), directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, is a brilliant, witty, touching coming of age film centered on a detached, self-critical teen, his "coworker," and a sick, yet completely lovable girl. The opening scene introduces the story with narration from the main character Greg (Thomas Mann) and draws in the audience, setting up the stage for a story unlike any other boy-who-meets-girl-with-cancer story. From quirky stop-animation of chipmunks and moose, to bright, odd characters like a father who wears robes all day and eats disgustingly exotic foods, to humorous subtitles such as "Day 1 of Doomed Friendship," this film adaptation of the novel of the same name has it all.
The story follows Greg through his senior year of high school, where he has managed to survive by having access to every social group without actually belonging to any one of them. He maintains his low profile with head nods and casual conversation, but never makes excessive effort to hang out with one group or another. Outside of school, Greg makes parody films that he keeps fairly secret with his friend who he calls his "co-worker," Earl (RJ Cyler).
Greg Gaines came home after his first day feeling pretty good about his last year at Schenley High School, until his parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton) came into his room and "destroyed" his life. Greg's mother tells him about Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a girl at school, who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. She insists that Greg hangs out with Rachel to make her feel better, which upsets Greg because if he hangs out with Rachel, then it will disturb his strategic system of high school survival that has been perfected for years.
Greg's first visit with Rachel establishes a shaky start to an unlikely friendship when Greg tells Rachel that he is only there because "my mom is making me." The two then make a deal that Greg can hang out Rachel for a day to make his mom happy then they can "be out of each other's lives," but they soon realize that they actually enjoy hanging out together and a friendship develops. Soon enough, Rachel meets Earl and learns of the films the two make together. Rachel finds the movies very entertaining and the films become somewhat of a distraction from the reality of her illness. As Rachel's disease worsens, she must receive chemotherapy, and Greg spends more time with her, deepening their friendship.
The acting itself is spot on from the very first second to the end credits. The honest, sometimes even awkward conversations, make it seem like there is no script at all. The raw emotion shows the actors' passion, love for their craft, and their connection to the story. The audience sees both the pure joy on Rachel's face when Greg humorously describes how you can pretend to be dead to get out of an awkward conversation and the sensitivity Greg shows when Rachel goes through chemotherapy; every line is delivered perfectly, every emotion portrayed seamlessly. In fact, the performances in the story are so spotless that you quickly forget the film is just a story. As a viewer, you develop strong connections to each character, and find yourself glued to your seat wondering where the movie will take them next.
Not only is the movie gripping, but it is also lighthearted and humorous. Upon reading the title you might expect to cry, and you likely will, but you'll also laugh- a lot. The emotions in this story are so honest and close to real life: a refreshing break from touching, mushy young adult romance movies. Gomez-Rejon uses innovative ways to capture the story as well. A variety of fresh camera angles like surprising sideways angles and shots like a pan around Rachel's room, or the way the camera slightly bumps up and down as if you are looking through Greg's eyes as the you experience a montage of days Greg spends with Rachel set to an exciting instrumental piece create an unique experience.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is valuable for all viewers. In the beginning, Greg is an extremely self-conscious, immature teen, but his situation and the people in his life help him grow and reach his full potential throughout his senior year. A fight between him and Earl, wisdom from his history teacher, and support from Rachel all show him many truths about life that he had never seen before. There are so many important lessons in Greg's coming-of-age experience about life and loss that the audience learns with him. You'll find yourself leaving the theater with a wonderful new world perspective and asking yourself how you lead your own life. So whether you have read the novel and can't get enough, or you are simply looking for another heart-warming, honest, clever movie to watch, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl will not disappoint.