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26 August 2015

"I'm Not Going To Sit Here and Get Comfortable Watching You Die"

If you can imagine a funnier, big-screen version of Dawson's Creek but where one of the main characters has cancer, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's new film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn't far off. OK, so the movie isn't that similar but like my younger self's favourite TV show, it does centre around a teenage male protagonist who loves films but is struggling with both self-doubt and narcissism. There's even a scene where Greg climbs through the bedroom window of the female member of the central trio.

The teen in question is Greg (Thomas Mann), whose oh-so-meta narrations frame the movie. He gives us an almost anthropological tour of the different tribes at his high school — reminiscent of Mean Girls — and tells us proudly how by maintaining a low-level friendship with all of them, he doesn't have to commit and becomes socially invisible. His closest companion is Earl (RJ Cyler), whom he has known since childhood but whom he describes as his 'co-worker' rather than his friend. They make short movies together: mainly remakes of classic movies with clever titles, such as A Sockwork Orange and Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs. Earl is not too far off a Pacey to Greg's Dawson: he takes himself less seriously and is generally more fun and thoughtful.

Greg is relatively happy in his solitary existence until his mother (Connie Britton) forces him to go to visit one of his classmates, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Greg doesn't know Rachel very well and thinks she would find it weird for him to visit her, but in the end, he gives in and is promptly greeted by Rachel's over-friendly mother (Molly Shannon), who must be an homage to Stifler's Mom in American Pie. Rachel is suspicious and unimpressed by Greg's visit, but they talk a bit and begin to hang out. Sometimes he offends her — intentionally or otherwise — and sometimes he makes her laugh.

If this were a standard rom-com, Greg tells us, this would be where he and Rachel start falling for each other, but he assures us that it isn't. Instead, he continues to go about his regular life, applying for college after immense pressure from his mother and tenured-anthropology-professor/stay-at-home-dad (Nick Offerman), and trying to remain invisible.

To say more about the plot would spoil the ending, but the plot isn't really the point here, so much as friendship and self-discovery. I really enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's funny and quirky and although its central character is sometimes obnoxious and infuriating, the film isn't. It is also touching and more than a little sad without being mawkish. Cooke's performance really stands out among the young cast, although Cyler's Earl is hilarious and down-to-earth — the perfect complement to Mann's Greg. Offerman is, as ever, great in his supporting role, as is Jon Bernthal as Greg and Earl's history teacher, Mr McCarthy, in whose office the boys spend their lunch breaks watching Werner Herzog and eating pho.

It goes without saying that Gomez-Rejon's film is also a great movie for movie-lovers: there are many great quips and references, and some of Greg and Earl's remakes need a separate screening! I saw a preview as part of Odeon's Screen Unseen series, where the film is kept secret until the screening begins, save for a few cryptic clues on Twitter; it goes on general release in the UK on 4 September.

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