Weird, slow, almost boring movies about teenagers dealing with life are some of my favorite films. They are highly relatable and have an almost universal ability to appeal to people since most people were teenagers at one point or another. Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is the story of a high school senior named Greg (Thomas Mann) who is coasting through high school by being cool with everybody and friends with practically nobody except his best friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) with whom he makes very weird parody films based almost completely off the title of well known films. His parents force him to hang out with Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a girl he barely knows who is dying from leukemia. Bonding over her mortality and his odd sense of the world, Greg must contend with love, loss, what it means to have friends, and whether or not he is as much a tool as he sometimes seems to be (spoiler for that last one; 60% a tool, not bad for a teenage guy).
The challenge with this movie is that it’s mostly about Greg; that makes sense based off the title of the movie and the story but it’s a tad unfortunate as well. We see Greg in all of his multifaceted glory; he’s funny, talented and basically a nice guy but he’s also neurotic and fundamentally a teenage boy who is not quite equipped to handle all that life throws at him. He has built this intricate and obsessive status quo at school that makes a lot of sense on the surface, but is no way to live life once you really think about it. It takes a dying girl to break him out of the veneer he has created and while that reveals a lot about his character, it doesn’t do the same job for Rachel. Her and Earl are much more two-dimensional and I think that’s unfortunate. The movie has three interesting and unique characters on offer but it only has time and energy to really develop one. Ultimately, the black best friend and the dying girl are there primarily to feed into the growth and evolution of Greg, the white lead character. I don’t think it’s intentional and I don’t think it’s malicious on the filmmakers behalf, but it still leads a bit of a bad taste after the film ends.
That being said, the acting from the three is strong. Mann does a good job of showing the confusion and lack of understanding that all teenagers feel without it being off putting or to annoying; watching his character grow and shake off some of his beliefs feels genuine and familiar. Cook does a great job of embodying a young woman who has been given a death sentence far to young. She’s at once sad, angry and occasionally wise given her circumstances. Cyler plays the slightly aloof friend who knows a bit more about life then his milquetoast best friend, but we don’t get much more out of him, which is a shame. Connie Britton and Molly Shannon are fine as worried mothers of their children, but of the adults in the movie, Jon Bernthal and Nick Offerman really shine as a teacher and Greg’s weird dad who loves to cook odd things. Offerman’s father is quite supportive of his son and his weird hobby’s, which is something we don’t see enough of in films. They are odd, quirky supporting roles that bring a great sense of place and distinctiveness to the movie.
Overall, this movie that nobody saw was quite enjoyable. The amateur film interludes throughout are especially funny and heartwarming; they bring that touch of weirdness that teenagers so often have. With strong acting performances and a universal and touching story, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a movie well worth watching.