Me and Earl and the Dying Earl could easily be no more than the sum of its quirky movie clichés and coming-of-age indie cinema parts. Based on Jesse Andrews' novel (adapting his own work for the screenplay), first time director Alfonso Gómez-Rejón uses stylistic flourishes and a unique perspective of complex teenage subcultures to really capture an earnest experience of growing up quite remarkably.
The film takes a rather standard story of young tragedy and awkward teenage self-loathing to execute an inventively filmed universal story of friendship. It's a bittersweet high school dramedy with uniformly excellent performances from its young cast of Thomas Mann (as Greg, the "me" of the film) anchoring the narrative journey exclusively from his perspective, R.J. Cyler and Olivia Cooke as the titular Earl and dying girl, Rachel, respectively. Greg's parents are understatedly portrayed by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton who ground the young actors while Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal are broadly humorous and subtly affective as Rachel's grieving mother and the wise history teacher.
Gómez-Rejón and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung shoot the hell out of the film by using offbeat framing, static long takes, and inventive cuts without being overly distracting. Perhaps a tad too cute or self-aware at times, the Pittsburgh set film uses all the tricks of the trade to flesh out its story from unreliable narration, parody filmmaking scenes, and fantasy sequences to give you a sense of all the emotions and inner turmoil the characters face. It's a rich yet easily digestible tale that explores the limitations of our own artistic efforts just as it delves into a collective acceptance of our own mortality and sense of friendship across lines of class or privilege.
Full of thoughtful and self-reflective insights, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an altogether pleasant and pleasing film true to the contemporary teenage experience featuring plenty of genuine relationships and interactions. It mixes elements of John Hughes films with the visual flair of Wes Anderson for an energetic viewing experience packed with references from throughout film history (particularly for fans of Werner Herzog).
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