Surprisingly good, fresh, funny and touching, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of high school kids, coming of age, learning not just about life, but about death, and how we still keep discovering new things about people after they’re gone. Even the most important things. We still keep learning about ourselves in the process, and that how we treated them while they were on this planet is everything — well, except for realizing this should apply to the not-dying too.
Young Greg Gaines, played by Thomas Mann, is a senior in a Pittsburgh high school, and he’s socially awkward, very hard on himself, and tries his best to navigate through all the baffling teenage factions without ever getting involved in any one of them. And perhaps because he’s decided to remain free from all attachments — except for his one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler) — he’s taken aback one day when his mother asks him to befriend Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke, who has been diagnosed with Stage Four Leukemia. His mother (Connie Britton), “the LeBron James of nagging,” wants him to go over to see her, so he does, and he initially makes a mess of things, but soon enough his quirky sense of humor wins her over and they become fast friends. So while she goes through chemo, loses her hair, gets sicker and sicker, they become close, and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, tries to steer away from the usual Hollywood cliches. Greg narrates the film and tells us more than once that this won’t be the usual YA romance. And it isn’t, really. The fault is not in his stars.
But I bought it. And so did the audience at Sundance, apparently. And that helped launch this film, made for roughly 5 million dollars, into wide release last year. Though if you’re in a cynical mood, and inclined to pick these kinds of movies apart, it’s not that difficult — ironically, on grounds the director and writer likely sought to preempt. These days, it’s harder and harder to make movies without referring to other movies referring to movies and worrying overmuch that you’re caught unaware that it is a movie. Sometimes it’s easier just to make a blow ’em all up, action/chase/thriller/horror film and be done with it.