FILM REVIEW: Me and Earl and the dying girl

If there’s one thing that the passing of time has taught me, and this is very much flying in the face of popular opinion and accepted wisdom, it’s to never trust my first impression of anything…
The opening scenes from Me and Earl and the dying girl (MEDG) briefly reminded me of the opening exchanges from another ‘kooky’ indie offering, Juno, and much like my early reaction to Juno, I feared my toes may never fully uncurl again.
I don’t do ‘kooky’ well.
Smart-ass kids with their overly world-savvy, sharp and deeply unrealistic dialogue. It just doesn’t sit well.
MEDG falls into this category, at least initially. Split into sections, each pre-empted with an on-screen ‘the part where {such and such happens}…’ text moniker, I’m suddenly watching Friends again and although Friends was admittedly well written and witty, there were aspects of its overall aura that, in the words of Friends’ own Joey Tribbiani, “made me want to rip my own arm off and hit myself with it.”
But, in the spirit of humble pie and with arms thrown aloft, conceding defeat, this is the part where I give in to the kookiness and reveal that MEDG is actually a slick, emotional and above all very poignant piece of film making; a film that has stayed with me long since the final credits rolled.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is our lead; all gangly awkwardness and self deprecation, coasting through life, shying away from interaction, genuine friendship and going to great lengths  to ensure that he remains on the path of least resistance in whatever he does. A sort of survival for the relatively anonymous.
On hearing that one of the pupils at Greg’s school, Rachel, has been diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mother and  ‘man of the world’ father (Nick Offerman) agree that Greg, despite his reluctance to do so, should spend some time with her.
Rachel (a perfect casting for Olivia Locke), if nothing else, is surprisingly receptive of Greg’s own particular brand of clumsy, nerdish humour, perhaps offering a welcome distraction to her own problems, and despite a most inauspicious of starts, a hesitant yet tender friendship somehow begins to blossom.
Earl (RJ Cyler) is, in Greg’s own words, not his friend but his his ‘co-worker’; a straight talking kind of fella whose no nonsense approach to things often shakes Greg from his insular existence, forcing him to face up to life and his own responsibilities within it. They’re an unlikely, seemingly mismatched pairing, but through their appreciation of cult and classic movies, and more importantly their own kooky (there’s that word again) B-movie re-imagining of them, each seems to get what they need from the other in their partnership.
Together they share their creative exploits with Rachel and importantly, she seems to ‘get’ the pair of them.
In light of Rachel’s worsening health, it’s perhaps left to Greg’s tutor, Mr McCarthy, (Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead fame), to impart the film’s core message, pointing out to Greg that sometimes it’s often only after someone’s gone that we truly learn about them, who they were and crucially, how they’ve shaped and will continue to shape our own lives, helping us to overcome our inadequacies and to become the person that we have the potential to be.
Although Greg is quick to dismiss this as some kind of unnecessary life lesson, these are words that might prove to be strangely prophetic.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon judges the mood of MEDG superbly. It’s sweet, not saccharine, sad, yet not overly melancholic and amusing yet never really resorting to cheap laughs.
Enhanced by an excellent, Brian Eno-infused and predictably indie soundtrack, you could say that MEDG strikes just the right balance, exuding both warmth and charm and I suspect a longevity that perhaps wouldn’t be expected from a film within the ‘teen’ genre.
A kooky, indie gem.
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