Some of my favorite films take place in the waiting room for adult life otherwise known as secondary school, a setting naturally charged with existential melodrama. (Only police stations and hospitals come near.) Think of Splendor in the Grass, Clueless, Election, The Breakfast Club, Rushmore, Carrie, Blackboard Jungle, Heathers, and Rebel Without a Cause to mention a few high-school highs bordering on perfection. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is probably closest in subject matter to the recent cult fave films The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s much better than the two combined. It is intricately crafted, often very funny, moving in its depiction of friendships and mortality, and all about the extreme love of movies, to boot — it’s Citizen Kane gone to the prom.
The director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, has never made a big film before except a blasé remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, but he served apprenticeships with at least two masters, Alfonso González Iñáritu and Martin Scorsese. From them, he learned to craft each scene for its utmost feeling factors, whether it is humor, dread, or sadness. All these emotions and more are present in the story of Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler), who are friends but of the cool reserve persuasion, involved in arch creative lives until they start hanging out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), recently diagnosed with leukemia. It sounds predictable, but the angelic aspect of this film is an accumulation of perfect small details, animated flourishes, satiric movies-within-the-movie, and a wicked soundtrack far hipper than anything else out of Hollywood currently.
There aren’t any big stars except for Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon, and they both shine as minor defining lights to the film’s ultimate purpose. The wellsprings of creativity, this movie keeps reminding us, are fed by deep and unexpected sources both common and horrible. Even more thrilling, though, the movie gives us a vision of high school life as undifferentiated from the mortal span, unknown even after it’s over.