Greg (Thomas Mann) is starting his senior year. He has no ambition, goals, and is full of self-doubt. In his spare time all he does is watch old foreign movies and make crap films with his “co-worker” Earl (RJ Cyler). When a classmate of their named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg is forced to spend time with her under the demand of his mother. It isn’t long before Greg devotes his time to Rachel and tries to help her through the grief and is brought into he world he and Earl live in. Along the way, Greg and Rachel learn from each other about life, death, and acceptance.
Following the teen romance, tear-jerker The Fault in Our Stars, comes a new entry in the teen cancer genre. However, this film sets itself apart from Stars and other teary cancer dramas. In Dying Girl, we are given characters that aren’t ones people swoon over because of the romantic aspects. There is no romance here. The characters here are superbly real and satisfactorily so. Cancer plays a huge part of the story, but it’s not about the cancer. It’s about these characters and their relationships and interactions while cancer is the backdrop. The character of Greg goes through life doubting everyone, including himself. He chooses not to make friends, or give in to advances of his crush because he believes the worst is always to come. Yet, he walks through all of this with his snarky personality and basically having no filter with the things he says. The latter comes in handy when Rachel comes into the picture. She isn’t pleased about Greg’s presence initially, she’d rather grieve in peace, but when Greg and Rachel grow close, it is Greg who doesn’t treat Rachel as the dying girl. He makes jokes about cancer and death and Rachel enjoys it. She doesn’t let the cancer get her down after the fear of being treated differently passes. Rachel is also the kind of character relatable because of her ability to see through people and know who and who not to keep around. Earl is the sentimental one of the group, but also has a little bit of Greg in him to not treat Rachel like glass about to break. He uses his kindness to ease the moments when things become too intense. Like Greg, he also uses humor at the right moments. Dying Girl sets itself above a vast majority of cancer films because it doesn’t get sappy or over-dramatic and just eager to make tears spill. It tries to give realistic look at the characters instead of making it all about the cancer. The story is about living while you can and making every moment and opportunity count. However, the emotional factor is one thing give it a weakness. I’m glad it avoided a bunch of tear-jerker cliches, but I was waiting for that one emotional moment to pack enough punch in order to bring things full circles after the vast amount of laughs throughout the movie. And while the characters and the actors themselves to really sell the film and keep it rolling (especially Mann and Cooke), there are moments in the middle of the film that slow it down due to some repetitive moments.
All in all, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a huge fresh of breath air and an original take on cancer that we hardly, if never get. The characters feel real and the actors do a tremendous job of making them real. It’s easily a coming of age story for this generation that fits for the young people of today, dealing with things besides cancer that many of us can relate to. Though, if cancer is a very sensitive subject to you, the dark comedy moments involving cancer jokes may be a bit too much. But if you can get through and laugh with these characters, and see them go through the situation as real people, you will enjoy it quite a bit.