Giving a heavy topic some humor is really hard. John Green managed to do that with The Fault in Our Stars and still manage to make it tear-inducing and realistic in nature. This is exactly what author Jesse Andrews also manages to do with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which is similar to Green’s novel and film adaptation (both about cancer-ridden characters). But Me and Earl manages to maintain its own personality and unique characteristics, which sets this adaptation apart.

The film premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, winning both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic category. I happened to miss it at the festival, but was pleased to know that I could catch it at DC Film Fest (much to my pleasure). Following all its hype and glowing reviews, there’s a lot of pressure to go into a film with so many high expectations. But I’m happy to report that those glowing reviews were right.
Greg (Thomas Mann) has one goal: to be invisible. He dedicates his life to not being a part of any high school social circle, is acquainted with everyone on some level, but only enough to not be stuck in a label like everyone else. Greg even goes far enough to say that Earl (RJ Cyler) is his coworker–the two of them are filmmakers of classic film parodies that Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman) has addicted them to–instead of calling him his best friend. He has an entirely low opinion of himself no matter what anyone says to the contrary. When it’s discovered that Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) pretty much forces him to hang out with her. And he’s surprised when their forced acquaintance turns into friendship.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is refreshing in many ways. It’s charming, charismatic, and funny. But it’s also grounded in realism, its emotions and story carrying an air that’s heavy but still funny, giving it a hopefulness and its own version of a happy ending without crossing a line. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story, Glee) is able to infuse the film with his own style, but still keeps to the heart of the story.
The film is very character-driven and develops them well. Greg, who’s the somewhat awkward but talkative lead character, drives the story. Thomas Mann portrays his funny, awkward, and emotional side extremely well. Greg is the very definition of a human being. He’s someone who understands the world around him, but sits on the outskirts and is angry at some parts of it even when he knows it’s out of his control. He’s fueled by all of these things and indirectly allows his new-found friendship with Rachel to get past the invisible walls he’s put up around himself. Greg is as afraid of being himself as everyone else is, but much better at hiding it.
This is why Rachel and Earl are so integral to his story, because as much as this film sounds like it should be about the “dying girl”, she is only the focal point for change and movement around Greg’s world. Though Olivia Cooke’s character is just as developed as Mann’s. Cooke brings honesty to her portrayal as Rachel, making sure that she’s heard, even when she no longer can be. Earl is played by RJ Cyler in a comedic role, the balance between Rachel’s honesty and Greg’s invisibility to the rest of the world, he understands Greg even when he doesn’t understand himself. The three of them share a great onscreen bonding chemistry.
One of the most heartwarming and emotionally-balanced films of 2015, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will be sure to bring a smile to your face and tears to your eyes. The film is grounded in reality, has its own quirky personality, and memorable characters that allow us to enter their world and be spectators to something so raw and beautiful. The entire cast shines and the comedic beats are more than welcome, keeping them in line with the film’s more emotionally-fueled moments. A film with a lot of heart.

About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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