One of the hardest things to capture in any film about teenagers and high school is realistic characters. It is very easy to fall into the trap of having teenagers fit into prescribed groups, the usual clichés like Geek, Goth, Jock and Cheerleader. The film then usually places the central character above all that or in a position where they will subvert the stereotype and rebel. It has been done and frankly it’s insulting.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl begins this way but very quickly throws in an original edge. The central character realises that you can get by with any of the groups by just being a nobody. The groups aren’t at war, this isn’t some tribal group you must belong to and there are many more complicated groups that exist – for example “boring Jewish girls.” It is this kind of unique slant to high school and the more complicated things teenagers have to deal with that makes the movie work.
It isn’t even really about high school. The film’s central focus is how a character so scared of friends he called his best friend a “co-worker” gets involved with a dying girl. It is the central character of Greg that makes this movie so watchable. He is sarcastic, clever and very funny. Thomas Mann fills the role perfectly, being able to play the troubled teenager without ever resorting to mopy, pouting and troubled as a standard response.
The writing throughout is the key ingredient of why the movie works so well. The conversations between Greg and every other character, from the very funny Earl, the sweet, lovable and dying Rachel through to his parents, especially his Dad played by Nick Offerman. The unique writing isn’t just in the characters but in the whole creation of the film. It offers some very different ways of presenting the idea of teenagers dealing with loss and terminal illness.
The year after The Fault in our Stars managed to go down the more realistic and gut-punching approach to the subject, Me and Earl decides to go slightly surreal. It is never too crazy but this is a film that has one of the funniest cases of accidentally getting high combined with some very questionable conversations about pillows.
A secondary element but one that deserves mention, is the movies within the movie. Greg and Earl create their own versions of films, usually based on poor puns of classic titles – eg. My Dinner with Andre the Giant or Sockwork Orange – all of which are filmed and showed at different points throughout the movie. They add another level of both unique, surreal story-telling as well as some hilarious and very original ideas.
It is that originality that makes the movie work so well and you are rooting for the central characters throughout. This movie is dealing with death and terminal illness but to it’s credit, never feels like it is trying to force emotion or make you shed a tear (unlike The Fault in our Stars for example). That is why the final act and the culmination of the movie feels just a tad contrived. It goes down the emotional route when something else may have felt more appropriate. It is still presented in a touching, uplifting way but you want something else when the rest of the film felt like it was going in a different direction.
Overall, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a very unique way to present a story that has been told frequently and in some cases, as recently as last year. The characters are unique, very likeable and presented in a realistic way. Within the film is some surreal, funny and often very clever ways of changing the usual teenage/high school formula. It is just a shame the ending feels it needs to go down a more familiar route.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)