The 400-Word Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
By Sean Collier
June 29, 2015
Sometimes, the simplest changes can be disruptive. In Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, champion of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, that’s the case: It’s a teen drama in which none of the characters fall in love.
I know: revolutionary, right?
Me & Earl is too concerned with death to worry about love. Greg (Thomas Mann) harbors an obsessive focus on neutrality; it’s his aim to diagnose the social standing of everyone around him, and thereby avoid the scrutiny that comes with belonging to any particular clique. His only close friend is Earl (Ronald Cyler II), with whom he makes smartly juvenile parodies of classic cinema — “A Sock Work Orange,” with sock puppets in place of the droogs, for one.
His well-meaning if misguided mother (Connie Britton) forces him to reach out to Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a neighbor and classmate of Greg’s who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Neither Greg nor Rachel is particularly interested in the other’s company, but as they endure their mandatory socializing, a profound friendship emerges.
And no, romance does not. Me & Earl is about friendship and the place one makes in the world; screenwriter Jesse Andrews, adapting his own novel, seems to have correctly determined that sexuality and courtship would be out of place in this story. As such, Greg’s friendship with Earl is as pivotal as his relationship with Rachel — though it is through Rachel that the film’s most engaging commentary, about the lessons learned when death is near (and the pain that may outweigh the gains of learning them), comes through.
Cooke — previously relegated to little-seen genre fare like The Quiet Ones and, unfortunately, Ouija — demonstrates a brutal, bruised humanity far more complex than the average performer of her age; while most literary teen heroines are required to exhibit a constant, starry-eyed rapture with the world, Rachel is too busy trying to stay alive to give in to adolescent idealism. (In this regard, the death in Me & Earl is much more visceral than the film’s closest cousin, The Fault in Our Stars.) Mann and Cyler are gifted beyond their years as well, and a game supporting cast — also including Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal and Nick Offerman — give the film vibrant depth.
Some dalliances into Wes Anderson-style whimsy are ill-advised, but limited. The teen drama was already thriving; unexpectedly, Me & Earl expands the boundaries of the genre before anyone even thought to ask.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark