Teens with cancer is in danger of becoming it’s own genre. Following the success of the emotionally draining Fault in Our Stars, we now get the quirky indie version. Sundance awards and all. It’s a description that is sure to raise the heckles of some, as they expect to hate Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and yet this story about a self loathing teenager called Greg and his friendship with a girl suffering from leukemia manages to never collapse into mawkish sentimentality.
At the start of the film Greg (Thomas Mann) is proud of his ability to ride high school’s social demands. He is literally a jack of all trades and a master of none, as he is on good terms with everyone but friends with no one. Apart from Earl (RJ Cyler), whom he refuses to call a friend and instead brands a co-worker and makes comedic versions of art-house cinema greats with. This includes such puntastic titles as ‘Sockwork Orange’ and ‘Brew Vervet’. When he meets the titular dying girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), they are convinced into making an original film specifically for her.
Any cinephile is going to find a wealth of humour in this film. The likes of Werner Herzog are constantly referenced and the films these boys make are funny in their own right. In fact, the whole film is funny. It is a portrayal of teenage life that kind of gets what it is like to be a teenager. These kids aren’t stereotypes, they are normal kids in a world that they don’t quite feel comfortable in yet and hasn’t exactly dealt them a fair hand.
Of course, it’s not all laughter and rainbows. This is a film about a teenage girl suffering from cancer. Yet you never feel like you are manipulated into tears. Your feelings come because you grow to care about these characters and Olivia Cooke makes Rachel into someone whom you are rooting for. All while taking pot shots at the tropes of young adult movies, as Greg’s heavily sarcastic narration points out all the places that would normally lead to large romantic gestures or moments of passion.
The star of proceedings however is Ronald Cyler, in what is his debut feature-length film. Earl is very much this film’s hidden gem and his relationship with Greg is fantastically realised. Whether he’s throwing a witty comment into proceedings or theorising on why Greg is as mucked up as he is, he consistently steals scenes from those around him and without him this would be a much weaker film.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl manages to flip some of the stereotypes of the young adult genre on their head and at the same time succeeds in being a brilliant coming of age film. It has characters that both you and the filmmakers love, even when they’re at their most insufferable, and it makes spending time with it all the more enjoyable. It may well be the best coming of age film released this year and if you are willing to put up with a few tears, is well worth seeking out.