Familiar, but different. Don’t just look at the premise, look at the cast list, the source material – this is a young adult dramedy in every sense of the word. As such, it is definitely a genre-film – but it is not afraid of breaking the mold – even if its landing reminds you of other young adult dramedys.
Greg Gaines (played by Thomas Mann) just wants to fit in, without making any waves. Surviving high school, nay any and all social structures. He has no plans for the future – his only passion is filmmaking, which outweighs the carelessness that exudes him and his ‘co-worker’, Earl (played by Ronald Cyler II).
‘Co-worker’ not friend – Greg does not want friends, he just wants to survive and get by. Jesse Andrews, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay, gives us an unreliable narrator that isn’t afraid of said attribute. Greg, our narrator, is a ghost in school – until the day that his mother forces him to spend time with Rachel Kushner (played by Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia.
Greg constantly assures us that this isn’t a typical young adult romance – this is not the ‘same old story’ – and you never really believe him, which isn’t the point anyway. The point is that Greg was and is ignorant of the people around him – not just Rachel, but Earl as well. Our main characters are young – careless, ignorant, at times clueless – but they are well-rounded, and that is a particular strength of the story. One thing is for sure – film buffs will love this film. It is chock-full of various film references, and, still, it does not alienate a less movie-educated audience. It may seem quirky at times, but that works within the narrative of the film.
There are three acting performances in this film that need to be praised, with the first one being rather obvious. Thomas Mann is perfect as Greg Gaines – he fully embodies and exudes the carelessness and worn-out nature of the character in every scene.
Then we have Jon Bernthal, one of the most underrated actors around right now, and he gives a solid but strange performance in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Films that lean on young adult characters having developed over the course of the film often times have this spotless teacher as a mentor. That is not exactly what Bernthal’s Mr. McCarthy is. While McCarthy does help and guide Greg somewhat, he never loses the strangeness of his own character.
Finally, we have Olivia Cooke. You might’ve seen Cooke in the show Bates Motel or the film Ouija, but this is, without a doubt, her finest performance yet. Olivia Cooke is going to be a star, and this film solidifies that – this film, quite frankly, would not have been as amazing as it is without her.
9 out of 10
I’m Jeffrey Rex