‘Dying Girl’ tells the story of Greg Gaines, a self-confessed terminally awkward high schooler, who has formulated a way of sailing through high school virtually unnoticed. His drift takes a turn when his parents goad him into befriending a girl from his school, Rachel, who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. As you might guess from the title, Greg has one other friend, or co-worker as he puts it, named Earl. Greg and Earl like to make films, and this has been the basic foundation of their relationship. Now they find themselves making a film for this girl Rachel as she goes through cancer treatment. If this is starting to sound like some sappy, run-of-the-mill cancer movie then I should point out that somewhere in there Hugh Jackman makes an appearance as Wolverine.
This is not a touching romantic story. Really, it’s not. It’s made clear right off the bat that this film is not your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-for-girl, girl-dies-of-cancer kind of movie. And it doesn’t need to be. The film tells the story in a way that keeps things light and fun without ignoring the gravity of its themes. And director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon isn’t afraid to delve deeper into the reality of misery, self-pity, and hopelessness of terminal illness. It’s the sheer honesty that makes it so compelling.
A big part of this comes from the cast, who do a great job of making these characters likeable and layered. Thomas Mann who plays Greg seems perfectly at home playing the awkward, self-loathing protagonist with a caring side. Olivia Cook plays Rachel, the dying girl whose tough, jaded exterior gradually becomes overwhelmed with melancholy and chemo drugs. This film also features the deadpan comedic stylings of Nick Offerman (of Parks and Recreation fame) playing Greg’s eccentric father, plus Jon Bernthal (from The Walking Dead) as the cool history teacher. So there’s a little something for everyone.
Furthermore, this film is beautifully shot. The clearly difficult camerawork adds a good amount charm to every scene. Jesse Andrews, who wrote the eponymous novel from which the movie was adapted, also wrote the screenplay. What results is a nice mix of warm tones, playful perspectives, and smart transitions that, if you didn’t know any better, could be mistaken for a Wes Anderson movie. Needless to say, this film has a very indie feel to it and the stop-motion animation thrown in here and there just adds to the quirk factor.
All in all, Me and Earl and the Dying girl is a lighthearted coming-of-age story that tackles themes of friendship and death in the most sincere and graceful ways. It’s filled with great visuals, quirky elements, and elegant storytelling. It will leave you tickled with its overall charm. It will have you grinning from its sheer wit. And it will leave you teary-eyed with its poignant earnestness. – Review by Diego Ramos