by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
For the most part, I tend to actively avoid films that are guaranteed to make me cry. Not through some kind of masculine Neanderthal type thinking that guys shouldn’t cry, I’m just not much of a fan of streaming like a little girl in a room full of strangers. There are, of course, exceptions; with a soft spot for all things military and pretty much all animals, sitting in that dark room for Max was a no-brainier for me. But for the most part, films made to make you blub are saved for viewings at home where only the wife can laugh at the Neanderthal crying.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl has a name that doesn’t need much decoding to realise it’ll try to have you balling at every turn, but having gone into the screening last night never having seen a trailer for this film, what I didn’t expect was to spend a large portion of my time truly laughing out loud. It’s a testament to not only how wrong an impression of a film can be just from the name, but also how genuinely great the film is.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a little more than a typical high school loner. He’s crafted his ability to simultaneously get along with everyone while remaining invisible into an art form. Only really having meaningful interactions with his friend, “coworker” and fellow filmmaker Earl (RJ Cyler) and his, admittedly pretty awesome, history teacher Mr. McCarthy, whose office doubles as a lunchtime hideaway for Greg and Earl while the über-cool educator uses the personal time as a forum to drop life lessons and advice. Spending almost all of his free time with Earl making parodies of classic films in various forms, Greg narrates us through his life as a ghost in his senior year at a Pittsburgh high school with no real ambitions outside of being away from the crowds once his year ends.
Catching wind of a classmate being diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg’s overbearing mother – played beautifully by the always amazing Connie Britton – forces the angsty teenager to go and spend time with her hoping that it’ll give him a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to do something nice for Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the film’s titular “Dying Girl“. Unwillingly dragging his sorry behind to her house and greeted by Rachel’s struggling-to-cope mother, the also always stellar Molly Shannon, she welcomes the opportunity at company for herself as well as her sick daughter and introduces Greg to Rachel. With about as much interest in accepting pity and Greg has in offering it, Rachel seems to take an instant liking to the quiet, but surprisingly funny, film nerd and the pair instantly form a friendship that is not only completely non-sexual, but gives both of them so much to gain from one-another that in a very short space of time, the pair have become, for want of a better description, platonic soul-mates.
As the final months of high school play out, Greg and Rachel become so close that an outsider would guess that they have been life-long friends, with Rachel being the only person that Greg and Earl have shared their parody films; with pun-tastic titles like Senior Citizen Kane and Sockwork Orange, and with Greg being the only person Rachel is comfortable being herself with, especially as her cancer treatment starts to take its toll and leaves the teenage girl with almost no confidence in herself. In a completely co-dependant relationship, the high schoolers have to come to terms with their need for each other and the possibility that they might not have each other for long.
Now, considering I’m very, very far from this film’s main target audience, I admit to coming out of it in a really good mood. I imagined a film about a boy being forced to be friends with a girl with cancer to end up being overly weepy, with a real over the top feeling to the sentimental parts of the movie. But I’m happy to say that Me and Earl and The Dying Girl almost perfectly balances the funny highs with the emotional lows of the story. Almost instantly caring for all the players in this game is a feat that I didn’t think a film about secondary school kids would be able to do for me any more and the tone is set just right so that those emotionally taxing parts that I would usually try to avoid, instead of taking the easy and manipulative route, they leave you with a lump in your throat but also leave you with an enormous grin on your face at the same time. Getting that weird limbo state somewhere between happy and sad is an amazing place to be put in by a film you weren’t expecting to enjoy.
The bottom line; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will easily sit with great high school flicks like The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls but will absolutely not be out of place being mentioned in the same breath as great dramas like The Descendants and The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a brilliant comedy drama with an affecting and long-lasting message for its entire audience and if, like me, it wasn’t on your radar; it absolutely should be now.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is released in UK cinemas on 4 September 2015.