Two high-school filmmakers, Greg (Mann) and Earl (Cyler) befriend Rachel (Cooke), a girl diagnosed with leukaemia.
The winner of this year’s most elaborate Ronseal title as well as two Sundance prizes, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl starts as a film lovers’ delight and becomes so much more. Smartly adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own YA novel, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s peach of a picture should also pick up awards for juggling. It does the impossible job of balancing smart-ass wit, high-school satire, a sweet portrait of adolescent friendship, movie love and huge emotional wallop all at the same time. None of the flavours dilute the others. Astonishingly, it didn’t really find an audience on its US release, which is a crying shame. UK, it’s time to put things right.
Wise-acre student Greg (Project X’s Thomas Mann) is half Ferris Bueller, half Martin Scorsese, effortlessly slipping between high-school cliques and making his own arthouse parodies with his only pal Earl (RJ Cyler), all with puntastic titles that never get stale: Sockwork Orange, The Rad Shoes, Senior Citizen Cane. These homespun moviemaking exploits dominate the first half of the film and are a delight, with Rejon’s filmmaking fizz adding to the movie buff playfulness. There are animated woodland animals, funny chapter headings, self-aware voiceover, hipster asides (Pussy Riot), kooky angles (Greg walks down the street, the camera tracking on its side) and talking Wolverine posters. It’s a John Hughes set-up directed by Wes Anderson and couldn’t be more winning.
But as the story becomes more heartfelt, the filmmaking whimsy dials down. Coerced by his pushy mom (Connie Britton), Greg, and by extension Earl, is forced into a friendship with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl stricken with leukaemia. It’s this relationship that forms the meat of the movie and it’s refreshing that Greg and Rachel remain purely platonic, keeping things on an even, schmaltz-free keel.
Cyler gives Earl sass but enough groundedness to be more than just the Best Friend (watch him concentrating on Herzog so intently). Cooke, meanwhile, gives Rachel a touching dignity. There is no over-emoting or stoic underplaying. Instead, she plays it just right. This is Mann’s movie, though. Initially, he is aloof and judgemental but charming enough to get away with it. He makes Greg’s opening up to Rachel and subsequent growth as a filmmaker/person feel sincere, moving and believable.
Me And Earl… sounds like Movie Of The Week hell but Rejon never lets things get mawkish (right down to the Brian Eno soundtrack) and infuses Greg and Rachel’s relationship with something sad, sweet and profound. Their deftly directed friendship is not a tear-jerker but a tear-earner. It also pulls off the nifty trick of keeping Rachel’s fate in the balance. It is totes obvs the “dying girl” of the title lives. Isn’t it?
Sweet but cool, funny and touching, Me And Earl… does it all. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll run to the Criterion Collection.