"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" has the misfortune of being released after other recent teen dying girl movies "If I Stay" and "The Fault in Our Stars." But unlike those movies, it's not just a blatant attempt to play with your emotions and wring tears out of you. It's sweet without being saccharine; moving, but never manipulative.
Written for the screen by Jesse Andrews from his book, the Me of the title is Greg, a socially awkward high school senior coerced by his mother into hanging out with a classmate because she has cancer, even though he barely knows her. The Dying Girl is Rachel, and she and Greg become friends. In a lesser movie, her cancer would be a crass catalyst for romance.
Greg's best friend is Earl, and they make cheap parodies of classic movies. The pictures bring some joy into Rachel's sad situation.The movie works as a meditation on dying and grief, and it's also an insightful look at the travails of high school and coming of age.
Part of what makes this potentially sappy material work so beautifully is the casting of the trio at the center of it. Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Oliva Cooke are all wonderful as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, respectively.
This is also a movie lover's paradise, packed with smart references to classic pictures. And director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon plays with a lot of different filmmaking styles in telling this story.
"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" comes close to being too preciously quirky at times, and there's a pretty obnoxious trick played on the audience by the narrator. But overall, it's a lovely little movie that pays off for those willing to dig a little deeper in theaters.