Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Reviewed by Lou Lumenick in The New York Post
“What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” goes the opening narration of the immortal “Love Story” (1970). “That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, The Beatles, and me?”
There’s no such lachrymose sentimentality — let alone sex — in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a funny, hip, touching and utterly irresistible comedy-drama about a trio of high-school misfits, one with stage IV leukemia, who bond over art films.
It’s roughly like a Wes Anderson-John Hughes remake of “Love Story’’ as overseen by Hal Ashby — art-directed within an inch of its life, and packed with look-at-me camera angles as well as sharp one-liners. And at times it does read like a prototypical, quirk-filled Sundance Film Festival award winner, complete with an African-American teenager whose primary function appears to be to help his white buddy.
But the self-conscious direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“American Horror Story”) turns out to perfectly fit Jesse Andrews’ borderline-twee adaptation of his own novel, and there are uniformly excellent performances by a perfectly chosen cast.
The shaggily charming Thomas Mann (“Project X”) kills it as chronic underachiever Greg Gaines, who negotiates high school by carefully avoiding friendships that might place him in one clique or another. Modal Trigger
Greg even insists on calling his BFF, Earl Jackson, his “co-worker” (RJ Cyler in what turns out to be a sly, stereotype-busting role). They make short parodies like “A Sockwork Orange” when they aren’t watching actual art films in the office of their heavily tattooed history teacher (Jon Bernthal) or at Greg’s home with his dad (Nick Offerman), a kimono-wearing sociology prof and exotic chef.
Our hero is pushed out of his comfort zone when his mom (Connie Britton) forces him to pay a visit to terminally ill classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), whom he barely knows and who isn’t at all interested in a pity party. But they quickly bond, platonically, over Greg’s mordant and self-deprecating humor and their shared love of the arts. Modal Trigger
When Earl starts hanging out with them, he mentions the short films, which they’ve never shared with anyone. Rachel adores them, but a request that they make a film especially for Rachel forces Greg to focus on his conflicted feelings about the girl and her unhappy fate. There’s a lot of sharp comic dialogue, but, like Greg, this wonderful movie doesn’t shy from more painful moments that threaten to derail Greg’s relationships with Earl and Rachel.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” isn’t perfect — for starters, Molly Shannon’s fine turn as Olivia’s chardonnay-sipping mom seems to belong in another movie. But it’s about as good as it gets for a summer movie, and it’s many times superior to the similar “The Fault in Our Stars.” I’d love to see what Greg and Earl could do with that one.