The simple joys of ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

Karen Kunawicz

Karen Kunawicz

I have a very soft spot for pediatric cancer patients. But I don’t have one for melodrama. It’s always tempting to use the first as a device to achieve the later. Thankfully, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has just a bit of drama and lot of tenderness and charm.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film based on the 2012 book of the same title by Jesse Andrews. It is directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (who dedicated the film to his father).

Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is a young man who tries to go through high school emotionally unscathed and staying out of trouble—that means superficially connecting with each clique by saying hi to them as he breezes through the halls of his school. He refers to his closest friend Earl (Ronald Cyler 2nd) as his “co-worker.”

That, of course, changes when his mom (Connie Britton) asks him to please go visit Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia.

The cast, again, is just perfect at conveying the charm and tenderness of the story. Mann and Cooke are their characters—which is important as much of the film hangs on the delicate nuances of their performances.

One very important thing about Greg and Earl—they’re filmmakers. So they “entertain” Rachel with their little homemade parodies of cinematic classics: Crouching Housecat, Hidden Housecat, Nose Ferret 2, Scabface, Senior Citizen Cane, A Sockwork Orange, Gone With My Wind. You can “google” the entire list of 47. So you can see how this has sweet little Easter Eggs for film buffs.

Other notable cast members include Molly Shannon (Superstar) as Rachel’s mom, Denise (who sometimes has to take a drink or two—it’s not easy keeping it together and showing a brave face as a single mom whose only daughter is sick), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) as Greg’s lovable but rather eccentric scholarly father and my personal cast favorite Jon Bernthal as history teacher Mr. McCarthy.

The last two times I saw him—he was a badass and a thug as Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead and as Brad in the The Wolf of Wall Street—it’s great to see him as the teacher that takes Greg (and Earl) into his office over lunch break. He also looks like mighty fine in his clean jeans, boots, vests or impeccable short-sleeved button shirts.

Why didn’t I have a history teacher like that?

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a low-key, low budget, sweet little film about people and situations we might know in one way or the other—a fine break from the big cinematic blockbusters with bombastic action scenes or the current wave of local adultery films.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens next Wednesday.


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