If the slightly flippant title isn’t enough to tip you off, let me just tell you: this movie about young people dealing with cancer is not like any cancer movie you’ve ever seen before. The terminal illness film is a troubled genre, let me tell you, but Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is a boulder into a still pond. Greg’s a high-schooler with a nice quiet life making short films with his good friend Earl and hanging out with a cool teacher. But then it seems that a girl down the street contracts cancer and the quiet life gets turned upside down. Gomez-Rejon has a really surprising eye; he catches weird visuals in quick shots or fast pans and some of the funniest stuff in this extremely funny movie are weird visual gags or strange, meta moments. Let’s just say: The X-Men. And leave it at that. The cast is really phenomenal. Jon Bernthal is quirky and strange as a likable teacher; Connie Britton and, especially, Nick Offerman are wonderful as Greg’s parents. Molly Shannon is nothing short of amazing, both hysterically funny and, toward the end, surprisingly powerful, as the girl’s mother. But it’s those three central performances that really sell the film. Ronald Cyler II and the aptly named Thomas Mann are fantastic as Earl & Greg; they just have a reality and naturalism to their performances that really works. But Olivia Cooke as Rachel, the titular girl, is an absolute revelation; her performance starts out strong and layered and it just gets better and better as the film goes on. I really can’t even express how powerful she is in her final scene, an almost entirely wordless sequence. It’s a beautiful movie, unafraid to be really wacky and yet utterly sincere. When it’s funny, it’s really funny. But all through it the thread of real sadness runs through it and, ultimately, elevates the film to a truly cathartic experience. It’s a wonderful movie, one you really have to see. 4 stars.
tl;dr – the terminal illness movie gets a hip spin in this post-modern movie; but for all the wacky self-awareness, the movie is genuinely evocative and powerful in a surprisingly deep way. 4 stars.