Whether you call them dramedies or tragicomedies, films that attack both your tear ducts and ticklish spots are now a firmly established genre, and prove particularly effective – sometimes even necessary – in telling stories about life, death and us curiously paradoxical human beings.
In the Pittsburgh-set Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, for example, the titular first-person narrator Greg (Mann) and childhood buddy Earl (Cyler) befriend schoolmate Rachel (Cooke) when she’s diagnosed with leukemia. It hardly gets sadder than witnessing burgeoning adolescence eaten away by cancer, obviously – you can practically hear the sobs in the audience from here. But it’s the humour, the sarcasm and the heroically naïve pretense that everything’s going to be fine that really works wonders and sets this movie apart.
Adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own bestselling YA novel, the script neither condescends to nor glorifies the goofy wisdoms of the young. It simply lets the sharp banter of the three leads fly while slowly peeling away layers of their self-defense mechanisms to reveal a true fragility inside. For that lovely discovery the well-cast trio, surrounded by a terrific group of supporting players, must be credited too. In a stand-out performance, Mann wins you over as the eloquent if chronically awkward protagonist. Through his open face that speaks mischief, kindness and regret, we enter a boy’s mind that knows no comedy or drama, but only compassion and the simple wish to make a girl laugh.
Directed with great verve and acute sensitivity, this film is not just a riot of emotions high and low, it says something poignant about loss, bonds, and how, on this one-way journey we must all undertake, it’s merciful to remember the fun along with the inevitable sighs.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl | Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (USA 2015) with Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke. Starts November 19