With a name like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, you expect to have your emotions manipulated. Last year we had The Fault in Our Stars, which seemed to win the hearts of what felt like everyone on the planet. That is, everyone except me. I found it to be a trite and catastrophically disappointing film catered to teens looking to cry their eyes out over the “great love story of our generation.” But, this isn’t a review of Fault—I bring it up merely to serve as a template to hold Me and Earl up against, only because the latter also follows a girl afflicted with cancer, and a quirky guy who befriends her. However, with Me and Earl, the romance is completely taken out and replaced with an endearing friendship.
Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews (who also wrote the screenplay), the film follows Greg (played by Thomas Mann), his best friend Earl (newcomer RJ Cyler), and, of course, the dying girl—Rachel (Olivia Cooke). The film, just like the novel, is highly subjective and framed with constant first person narration. Along with Greg’s narration (and very witty assessment of high school cliques), there is also a visual representation of Greg’s feelings and creativity by way of wonderful stop motion. While this device has the potential to be arbitrary, here it perfectly reflects Greg’s nature. He, along with Earl, is an aspiring filmmaker who often uses stop motion himself.
This is where the film really excels. I thought it was a nice, subtle touch when Greg’s room has a 400 Blows poster in it, and when he was often seen wearing a Nosferatu shirt. But then Greg explains how he and Earl grew up watching the classics. Their shtick as filmmakers is taking those classics and remaking them as silly shorts. And they tackled hundreds. We see various clips from a few (which are incredibly funny), but we also see tons of titles. 400 Bros, 2:48pm Cowboy, Brew Velvet, Breathe Less, Sockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Butt, Pooping Tom, Seven Seals, Burden of Screams, My Dinner With Andre the Giant—these are just a small sample of the slew of hilarious homages. Not to mention a fantastic impression of Werner Herzog by Greg. Me and Earl is ostensibly a “teen” movie. A teen movie as imagined by Michel Gondry circa 2005 and produced by The Criterion Collection. I am biased, so I can’t say how the film would be received by those unfamiliar with the references, but I have a feeling its ultimate message and larger charm will transcend that.
The fact that Greg and Rachel’s friendship never turned into anything more than that leaves the film simple, convincing, and affecting. Additionally, the supporting cast is strong. Molly Shannon plays Rachel’s mother, and Nick Offerman and Connie Britton branch out by playing Greg’s hippy parents. All in all, this film is surprisingly funny, endearing, and impactful. It’s so good, in fact, that I am willing to overlook the more predictable plot points. Do yourself a favor, and don’t hold that against this superb film.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.