Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the screenplay, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior and loner who is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to befriend a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. What begins as an awkward arrangement turns into a genuine friendship as Rachel goes through the hell of cancer treatment. Greg is such a loner, that he introduces his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler) as his “co-worker.” How are they co-workers? As children, Greg and Earl were turned onto cinema by Greg’s eccentric father (Nick Offerman) and since that time, they have made ultra-low budget films where they take well known films and change the names to make them lamer. Of course, this just provides the audience with a ton of laughs. Greg’s crush, Madison (Katherine C. Hughes), suggests that he and Earl make a film for Rachel and their decision to go through with it could potentially destroy their friendships.
This film is easily one of the year’s best. It is both hilarious and touching and done in a way that feels unique. There is some unreliable narrator going on in an effort to make a twist at the end happen, when they really just could have played it straight and it would have been just as fine. It felt like a bait and switch, which was annoying, but not enough to ruin the movie for me. There’s just too much to like here. I will say, though, that while the uniqueness of the story is refreshing, it also made some elements of the setting unbelievable. Greg’s high school is almost too idealized to be real at times.
The performances are spectacular. Mann and Cyler have great chemistry as Greg and Earl and they play both the drama and the comedy extremely well. Though Greg can come across as a jerk out of his desire to be a loner, he is a very likable main character. Earl is a lot of fun too and has some great lines throughout the film. Cooke just can’t stop playing sick girls, whether it’s her role on Bates Motel or in last year’s The Signal. Someone give her a healthy character to play! She’s excellent as Rachel, showing her range as she goes from silly to devastated and back again. Britton and Offerman are funny as Greg’s parents, but Molly Shannon steals the parent limelight as Rachel’s inappropriate mother. Hughes does well as the hot girl, but I would have liked to have seen some more delving into her character. Something she does towards the end of the film surprised me and didn’t ring completely true. Jon Bernthal puts in a nice appearance as Greg and Earl’s favorite teacher and watch out for Role Models breakout Bobb’e J. Thompson as Earl’s brother Derrick. He has some great lines.
Overall, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a quirky, funny, touching film that is one of the best I’ve seen so far this year. Definitely check it out when it plays in your area, but bring the tissues, because you’ll either be crying from sadness or crying from laughing.