Sunday 17 January 2016

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

I know what you’re thinking – “another shit teen fiction adaptation” or “The Fault in Our Stars all over again”. While it is indeed an adaptation of a young adult novel, and yes, it does bear similarities to the irritatingly abbreviated TFIOS, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl is so much more. On the surface, it’s pithy independent teen nonsense. So what made this little film make my Top 10 Films of 2015 list?

Out now on DVD, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl tells a familiar tale. Socially awkward and self-loathing Greg (Thomas Mann), the ‘Me’ of the title, drifts through life without truly connecting to anyone other than his long-time friend and ‘partner’ Earl (RJ Cyler). The pair have expressed themselves through their filmmaking, shooting amusingly titled spoofs of iconic classics of cinema and watching them together – keeping them secret from everyone except Greg’s nosy father (Nick Offerman). Their existence is mundane and empty. That is, until Greg learns that a fellow student and former childhood friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg’s parents force him to befriend Rachel in her time of need, while Rachel doesn’t want a friend. This reluctant pair soon strike up a powerful, strong bond through their shared quirks and so begins an extremely moving tale of friendship, illness and youth.

This review will be spoiler-free where the fates of the characters are concerned, but there is one element of the film’s relationships that I will discuss. In a film like this, it’s common for the boy-meets-dying-girl dynamic to end in romance. But no, not in Me & Earl & The Dying Girl. While Greg’s narration often references how “if this were a Hollywood romance,…” and shows us what we would see in that instance, the film is far from that. It’s one of the most real, human films in a long time – and as such, features one of the most convincing on-screen mixed-gender friendships in recent years instead of a predictable romance between the two leads. That is one of the film’s strongest points. While films like The Fault in Our Stars fall hard into predictable cliché with their soppy romance and attractive stars, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl’s beautifully normal cast and ordinary relatable story make the upsetting scenes all the more powerful.

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl’s narrative, adapted for the screen from the book’s author Jesse Andrews, is fairly predictable throughout. There’s nothing that will make you throw yourself back into your seat in shock. But thanks to the perfectly cast set of incredible talent, the material is delivered so strongly and passionately that this isn’t even close to being an issue. Thomas Mann makes our ‘hero’ Greg one of the most likeable teen film characters I’ve ever seen, as well as one of the most relatable. We all went through those years of self-loathing and it’s portrayed here with an understanding that others don’t manage. RJ Cyler is great as Earl, bringing more comic relief than heart to the tale. But the film belongs to Olivia Cooke who makes Rachel, ‘the dying girl’, one of the most heart-breaking characters I’ve seen on-screen in a long time. Portraying the slow deterioration of the disease while subtly showing the stages of grief, Cooke’s performance is award-calibre work. Add in some solid support from Nick Offerman and The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, as well as a charming voice cameo from Hugh Jackman, and you’ve got a bloody great cast.

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl has everything. It’s often funny – especially for film buffs like me, Greg and Earl’s homemade spoof films are genius – and it’s absolutely full of heart. It is extremely moving throughout and will leave you with tears in your eyes, thinking about life. It affected me far more than I expected…I wouldn’t say it’s changed my life, but it certainly made an impact. This is the film young people need. Films like The Fault in Our Stars give unrealistic expectations of being swept off your feet by a Prince Charming while Me & Earl & The Dying Girl is a gentle, human tale of friendship and being young. If you have a heart, you will cry.

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl is a funny, beautiful and moving tale which stands out strongly among all other teen fiction adaptations. Brilliant. 5/5.


Sam Love

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl at CeX

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