It's hard for me to come up with anything super negative to say about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's not a perfect film — so few are — but I was so caught up in its humor, honesty, and charm to notice many flaws... until later on.
To explain: Greg (Thomas Mann) is a teenage loner, floating through high school without settling into any particular group. For him, it's easier to circle the edge of every high school subculture, rather than get too chummy with and invested in a single one. Admittedly, his descriptions of the various groups worried me a bit — it seems like every high school movie these days employs that Mean Girls-esque cafeteria tour schtick.
After Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a member of the "Boring Jewish Senior Girls: Subgroup 2A," is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg's painfully well-meaning mother (Connie Britton) demands he spend some time with the girl, because it's the right and "nice" thing to do.
This, for me, was simply bizarre. Would a parent really not only pull a stunt like this, but not take no for an answer, even when their kid enters a "subhuman state" (i.e. throwing a full-blown tantrum)? I know mine wouldn't, but I suppose there are some out there who would.
On to the other problem: Cooke delivers a powerhouse performance, but Rachel, at her core, is used as a device to force Greg to grow up and stop being a self-centered brat. The character is so winning that you want to know more and more about her — just not through the eyes of Greg, who didn't even want to hang out with her in the first place.
The same goes for Earl. Cyler makes his big screen debut with the role (only his second overall), and he's so charismatic as the coveralls-wearing, "wrong side of the tracks" living Earl that you just want him in every scene, and not just as Greg's sidekick.
Still, overall, the film is engaging. Jesse Andrews — who wrote the novel on which the film is based — did a pretty great job of adapting, despite having no previous screenwriting experience.
"Any time you adapt a book, the economy of the script, you have way fewer words, you know, Courier is a big font, so it eats up a lot of the page already," Andrews said at a recent press event, only half-joking. "And so scenes that have tens or hundreds of lines of dialogue shrink into four and it has to do the same work. But they're the same people and it's the same world, it's just a different glimpse of it."
As much as the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, the cast and crew were aware that they were dealing with their own beast and didn't want to let the book overshadow the film they were trying to make.
"I read the script before I ever read the book," said Mann at the event, adding that it wasn't until he was cast that he cracked open the novel. "It did inform my character a little bit, but I wasn't trying to make the book version of Greg. You have to stick to one [version], so the script was our bible. And Jesse wrote both, so I didn't feel like I had to juggle anything."
A great story, though, is nothing without a great cast, and this one is definitely, well, great. It's always nice to see high schoolers played by people who look like they could actually be in high school, but far and beyond that was the genuine chemistry between Mann, Cooke, and Cyler, who spent a great deal of time together offset as well as on.
"Thomas and Olivia took me to this place called Meat and Potatoes and that was like our spot in Pittsburgh," said Cyler, "and they made me try bone marrow for the first time. That was almost an instant death, at the table. They had me so hyped, like 'Oh, it's so good RJ, just spread a little bit on the bread, it's just like butter.' I'd taken a sip of lemonade before, ate it, almost died right there."
You couldn't ask for a better supporting cast, either — playing Britton's onscreen husband is Nick Offerman, whose performance as a squid-eating, foreign cinema-watching, muumuu wearing liberal will strike an especially delightful chord with Parks and Recreation fans who are used to seeing Offerman play a man who would probably turn a muumuu into a sail for a boat (which he built himself, of course).
Molly Shannon is as on-point as ever as Rachel's mother, bringing the expected humor to the role, but also the sadness and desperation of anyone with a dying child, has no idea what to do or how to help.
As for the overall feel of the film, it's very stylized. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon went into this film with a specific vision, and it shows. Between stop-motion scenes featuring a moose (i.e. a beautiful girl) and a chipmunk (i.e. a dorky boy) and a fabulously executed tracking shot of Greg's subhuman meltdown, the movie definitely has an interesting (in a good way) look.
General Consensus: Go see it! It's funny and sweet and, if you happen to need a good cry, well, you'll definitely get it.