The Sundance seal of approval may have put off some, but don’t let the prospect of yet another young adult adaptation deter you from this charming little indie.
It’s not too difficult to imagine just how painful Me And Earl And The Dying Girl could have turned out in the wrong hands, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon avoids cranking the quirk-ometer up to 11 and instead draws affecting and appealing performances from his young leads.
That being said, the film takes a little while to find its feet as the angular camera moves (characters often deliberately appear at the side of a frame, for instance), Wes Anderson-friendly chapter headings and twee stop motion animation suggest a tough 105 minutes awaits.
However, Thomas Mann’s Greg, the “Me” of the title, soon wins you over with his hangdog self-deprecation.
Narrated in self-referentially cinematic fashion by Greg, we’re introduced to life in his small corner of Americana, which involves trying to ignore advice from his well-meaning parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman, who doesn’t seem to work which raises the question of how they are able to afford to live how they do), being on the periphery of the school’s various cliques and hanging out with Earl (Ronald Cyler II).
Greg doesn’t describe Earl as his friend, rather his “co-worker” due to the numerous movie pastiches they’ve filmed together, including Senior Citizen Cane, A Sockwork Orange and The 400 Bros. Greg’s obvious attachment issues are put to the test when he’s reluctantly persuaded to spend time with fellow student Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. A frosty acquaintance gradually thaws into something altogether warmer, though, as Greg, Rachel and Earl form a sweet bond.
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl manages to work almost in spite of itself. The best teen movies are invariably the ones that try least hard to be teen movies. Jesse Andrews’ screenplay, based on his novel of the same name, doesn’t feed arch, ham-fisted dialogue to its characters; rather it creates a world which feels lived in and – largely – succeeds in avoiding overly saccharine life-lessons.
The film also benefits greatly from the excellent chemistry of its core triumverate; Cooke especially, who has a spikiness that hides a scared fragility that is refreshing in a character such as this and builds on the good work she’s done in TV series Bates Motel (also playing a sickly teen – don’t get yourself typecast Olivia).
Despite being served with the occasional duff line (“titties” gets mentioned more than once), Cyler’s Earl is arguably the most interesting character, if only because you are so keen to find out more about his upbringing, which has seemingly involved growing up in a desperately run-down neck of the woods.
The film is at its best when it indulges in its love of cinema, something that serves as catnip for movie lovers who can spot the various references to the likes of Powell and Pressburger, Herzog and Truffaut, alongside all the affectionately staged reproductions of many well-loved moving pictures.
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a wholly pleasant surprise that will charm and moves you in equal measure.