Much like the film’s main protagonist, it marches to the beat of its own drum. It’s weird, irreverent, touching, subtle, but it’s never without focus. It knows exactly what it’s doing at all times and even goes so far as to tell you. It reads the audience’s mind, while also partially satirizing similar films in the genre, thus creating a little path just for itself.
Based on the novel of the same name, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is pretty self-explanatory. The main character, Greg (Thomas Mann) is just trying to continue to survive the end of high school by being acquaintances with everyone without being friends with any of them. But once he is forced by his mom to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl sick with leukemia, everything changes. He realizes the good and the bad that come with having people in your life. Before her, the one peer that he could count on was Earl (RJ Cyler). But Greg never refers to him as a friend, rather as a coworker. Their 12 year friendship consists mostly of hanging out in their teacher’s office during lunch and making parody films after school–a plot point that is extremely fun in its own right.
Regardless of the whole overarching premise, the characters themselves are really interesting. The teens are never written in a way that makes them appear to be wise beyond their years. No overly conscious prose that make them seem like grandparents teaching their grandchildren the meaning of life. Everything said is realistic and organic–as if written by a 17-year-old itself.
The writing and acting aren’t the only achievements of this film. Brian Eno’s score is very pertinent to the tone of the movie and blends in nicely with its surroundings. Also, the camera work is so conscious and never feels like it’s being experimental merely for the sake of art. Like when a character feels suffocated or claustrophobic, the camera gets extremely close at a slight worm’s angle so the audience can sympathize with them.
Despite being about terminal illness and death, it’s never depressing. It’s one of the few sickness films that hits the nail on the head. Without dwelling on the suffering and going for the cheap reaction from the audience, it enters into our souls and teaches us that death might change the people surrounding the sick person just as much as it does the sick person themselves.
Personally, watching this film didn’t make me cry. Not because I wasn’t sad, but because the characters and the script prepared me well for what was to come. It serves its purpose. It’s heartfelt and meaningful without being a tearjerker, but I really think that’s the point.