Only the Good Die Young
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl upends expectations with lots of laughs
When it comes to movies about young people, you’d think that young love, partying and other fun things would be the go-to subject matter. Instead, in recent years the trend has been to adapt books about dystopian worlds and teenagers on the brink of death — not exactly the most uplifting fare.
That trend continues with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, based on the bestseller by Jesse Andrews. The “Me” is Greg (Thomas Mann), a friendly if slightly awkward boy whose main hobby is remaking old movies with his friend, Earl (RJ Cyler). When Rachel (Olivia Cooke), one of their classmates, is diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) arranges for him to hang out with Rachel to try to lift her spirits.
What is initially an obligation turns into an actual friendship as Greg and Rachel find out more about each other. But with Rachel continuing to fade and Greg faced with the end of high school and the decisions that come with it, whether they should continue meeting weighs heavily on both of their minds.
As written by Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the film attempts to subvert expectations about what a film like this should be like. For one, it’s truly funny. Whether it’s Greg’s goofy antics, the admittedly horrible films he and Earl produce, or the inanities of day-to-day life in high school, there is plenty in the film to make anyone, even a dying girl, smile.
Taking inspiration from the films that Greg and Earl remake, Gomez-Rejon also uses a variety of off-kilter camera angles and positions. Some of the more striking ones have a character facing right who is positioned on the far right side of the screen (or facing left on the far left side), a jarring decision that makes them look as if they’re staring off into oblivion instead of conversing with another person.
Other filmmaking techniques, like utilizing stop-motion animation to illustrate Greg’s heart being stomped on by Madison (Katherine C. Hughes), a beautiful girl on whom he has a crush, keep the film from getting bogged down on the inescapable fact that the film hinges on a girl who will most likely die by the end.
The main trio of actors does a solid job of selling the story’s quirks. Mann makes Greg highly relatable and caring without ever becoming schmaltzy. It’d be nice if Cooke, who also plays an afflicted character on Bates Motel, wouldn’t have to always be sick in her roles, but she certainly has a knack at connecting with them. As played by Cyler, Earl is a bit of an enigma, but one that you want to return to again and again.
Special note should also be made of Britton, Nick Offerman as Greg’s dad and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom. Each puts his or her years of movie/TV experience to great use, ensuring the supporting characters are memorable.
Although not exactly the same tone as 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl accomplishes much the same thing, allowing the audience to get caught up in an affecting story while also learning to appreciate the moments that each of us is given.