‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ is a refreshing summer hit

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” won the Audience and Grand Jury prizes when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. People loved it. I can see why. Few films this year have been as smart and honest with itself. Or as hilarious. And none have been as emotionally sincere as “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

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In high school, people either find their clique or discover they aren’t fit for any. Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is one of these defectors. He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make intentionally terrible amateur films in their spare time. Otherwise, Greg likes to watch porn and neglect thinking about college. You know, typical high school senior stuff. But when his mom and dad (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) tell him about a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, Greg is encouraged to be a friend for someone who needs one. But considering her condition, that’s just asking for trouble. Right?

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You would think this story would seem overdone. This likely isn’t the first time you’ve seen a movie about cancer. But first-time screenwriter Jesse Andrews (adapting his own 2012 novel) doesn’t take quite the same road as his predecessors. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” has an eccentric “Juno”-like tone. It’s culturally-informed, clever, and quirky. It’s self-aware. It’s hysterical and tragic.

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Olivia Cooke has played sick before, in A&E’s “Bates Motel,” but she reaches new heights as “the dying girl.” Her powerful performance is a triumph. She’s the emotional (and comedic) heartbeat of this story, so when the story focuses more on Greg and Earl it loses some of its touch. But have no fear, because Mann and Cyler give incredible performances, too. Cyler is about as real as any character I’ve ever seen. What could have been a stereotyped sidekick character turned into everyone’s favorite teller-of-how-it-is.

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that takes an overdone story and makes it better. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not like any movies you’ve ever seen about illness. It’s like real life, but funnier and more dramatic. It’s what we deserve.

8/10

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