Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review: Fewer Faults in These Stars

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There’s a very tricky line to walk when combining a teenage coming of age story with cancer. If it lacks humanity, you can end up with the false cynicism and caricatures right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel for your characters. That’s where last summer’s The Fault in Our Stars failed. But all it takes is some humanity and realism to turn the ship around, which is why Me and Earl and the Dying Girl largely succeeds.

We follow Greg (Thomas Mann), a senior in high school and avid film lover that tries to remain invisible in school. He makes parodies of classic films with Earl (RJ Cyler), his best friend that he’ll only refer to as his co-worker. Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman, both excellent) inform him that his childhood friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, with his mother forcing him to go over and hang out with her because she’s dying.

From there comes the usual teenage awkwardness and beating around the bush. Greg’s refusal to be someone is what makes him feel so real. His fears of commitment and genuine human emotion leave him unfulfilled. Rachel’s cancer is never used in a manipulative way to have Greg arc. Instead, it’s an invitation for him to start asking some of life’s big questions. His journey is never affected by the cancer itself, but the way Rachel, Earl, his parents, and others handle it. There’s great drama to mine from your typical awkward teenager suddenly dealing with things bigger than him and everyone around him.

But for all the tears the film works hard to earn by the end, there are moments of comic relief throughout that only rarely feel forced. The film strikes a balance that The Fault in Our Stars never did (though that film never once felt genuine). Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is much better than that travesty because it features people we feel like we already know, not people we want to know. For that, it’s easy to forgive some gimmicky filmmaking techniques and failed jokes. This is a tear-jerker that works hard at feeling effortless, and mostly succeeds. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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