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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Year: 2015
Production Co: Indian Paintbrush
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Jesse Andrews
Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, R J Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal

There's a minute very early on in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl where hero Greg's (Thomas Mann) voiceover is walking you through the various subcultures and characters of high school, from the goth kids to the wannabe rapper, and it's enough to make you groan 'this again?' to yourself.

It's the kind of high school movie motif we've been seeing for decades and as anyone who's ever been to high school (evidently not many screenwriters) knows, it's a lazy shortcut movies use to try and make us relate to the generic hero when he's surrounded by costumed outcasts he's nothing like.

Thankfully Greg doesn't spend much time there, only long enough to explain how his relations with every clique and philosophy are low key enough to let him achieve his aim of surviving through high school without rocking the boat.

Despite the clumsy motif we've seen a hundred times before done better, it's actually a pretty intuitive way to tell us what kind of guy Greg is – information that will become plain later when we learn it's actually his story, not that of Rachel (Olivia Cooke).

Greg's well-meaning mother (Connie Britton) charges him with the task of going to Rachels house and befriending her after hearing that she's been diagnosed with leukemia.

Greg sympathises with the girl but hardly knows her, going to her house under sufferance. After getting past Rachel's affectionate and borderline creepy mother Denise (Molly Shannon), Greg finds Rachel is no more interested in a pity friendship that Greg is in offering one.

It's no spoiler to learn that actually the two become great friends, Greg giving Rachel a life of normality away from feeling ill and losing her hair through chemotherapy.

It also shouldn't surprise you too much to learn that Rachel affects Greg too, but it does by showing us the way Greg resists truly engaging with life. Even when Rachel meets the no-nonsense black kid from the wrong side of the tracks, Earl (RJ Cyler) – who's been friends with Greg for years – he explains that Greg calls him a 'co-worker' because he has a peculiar aversion to friendship and love of any sort.

In a bit of scripting genius by Jesse Andrews (upon who's novel the film is based) and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Greg and Earl make cheap and hilarious spoofs of classic films in their spare time. It gives the movie the same kind of reverence for cinema critics and cine-literate audiences love (see Be Kind, Rewind, Son of Rambow, Cinema Paradiso, etc).

But while Greg never intends for the films to be seen (and the straight-arrow Earl, who seldom speaks, doesn't care), Rachel wants to watch them, and Greg promises her he'll make one just for her.

From the get go – apart from the 'high school anthropology' theme – you're unprepared by how funny Me and Earl is. You expect it to be tender and even tragic, but Greg is so deadpan, the parents so quirky and the relationship with Earl so standoffish there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.

Then, just when you think you have your footing, Me and Earl does become heartfelt and heart breaking. You can't help but feel for Rachel because of her use of teenage cool to fight against letting the fear or pain through as well as Olivia Cooke's huge, gorgeous and expressive eyes.

She's not in many scenes, but you can feel the pull of affection towards her in everything Greg does. As the goofy hero, Mann has the richer role, and he shows real heart that might surprise you if you only know him from fare like Project X.

It's not a typical teen movie – not even a typical teen drama, Fault In Our Stars Style. Andrews, Gomez-Rejon and everyone in it understands that sometimes the only way to deal with sadness is to laugh – and vice versa.

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