Since it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for US drama at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it comes as no surprise that Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is as good as it is. In a genre bogged down with gushy young adult romances, this indie gem offers something new: a charmingly cynical depiction of an unlikely friendship that never once slips into being too saccharine or too hard to swallow.
For starters, the protagonist isn't even remotely in love with the girl the title describes, despite what you would expect. Heck, he's not even friends with her at the beginning of the movie.
Lead character Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is perfectly content with getting through high school with no attachments; being a part of every clique casually so as not to upset anybody, which in turn enables him to spend his days keeping a low profile. He doesn't even call his childhood buddy Earl (RJ Cyler) his friend, rather his film-making "co-worker" as he believes life is nice and simple without all the emotional baggage.
So when his overbearing mother (Connie Britton) convinces him to spend some time with a girl at his school who has just been diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg instantly drags his heels. One, it involves actually talking to someone - something he is not very well versed in and two, it would mean he has to spend time with a girl - an idea that terrifies him completely. But in the end, he goes along with his pushy parent's wishes. Not because its the right thing to do but because her whining about is rather annoying.
Initially dismissive herself of the pity friendship that Greg is offering her, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) eventually gives in and agrees to hang out with him, just so he can say he did and get out of her hair. The forced-together pair soon strike up a meaningful friendship, with one teaching the other to like themselves a little more and not waste their life worrying about what others think and to stop hiding behind humour, while the other provides much-needed comic relief at a difficult time.
There's no ticking things off of a bucket list here. No wild trips or awe-inspiring speeches. It's two teenagers sitting in their bedrooms, watching movies, trying to make each other laugh and getting behind on school work while they do so. Every aspect is relatable.
What isn't so expected is the amount of humour it employs considering the subject matter, but again, makes sense given the characters and how true-to-life it is trying to be. We all frequently use humour in our everyday lives to cope with sad times or uncomfortable situations and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl explores this well.
It's ambitious and individual in its style, with a camera that never seems to stop. One minute honing in on an uncomfortable close-up, to a follow-up shot that pans back as far as it can to create a more dreamlike image. It could come across a little garish, but it's a style that suits the film-making character at the forefront and gets away with it by having Greg narrate the whole piece. This is his interpretation of the story - and we're never allowed to forget it.
It falls back on its "hipster" a lot, though, which some will find annoying. After all, it centres around two budding film-makers who would much rather create an arthouse parody of Citizen Kane or the Seventh Seal, while tasting the latest worldly cuisine Greg's father (Nick Offerman) has discovered, rather than play Call Of Duty or spend the night on Facebook.
It may come across a tad pretentious at times due to the extremity of its deliverance of such traits, but it's undoubtedly refreshing – and humorous to-boot.
If John Green's second adaptation Paper Towns, released a few weeks ago, was a metaphor for a naive teenage girl, consisting of all of the tiresome and sickly sweet ingredients to make up a YA success – the "hot, unattainable girl", the electro-pop soundtrack and a dashing of an ethereal romance – Me And Earl And The Dying is its geeky, older brother.
It is a little more self-aware, significantly more comfortable in its skin and a lot more realistic. Even its score mimics this idea, featuring fittingly atmospheric tracks from artists such as The Police, Cat Stevens and Simon And Garfunkel rather than Haim or Vampire Weekend.
This seemingly effortless mix of teen-appropriate content and darker themes isn't a shock considering director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's filmography consists of titles as varied as Glee to American Horror Story and The Carrie Diaries to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. He knows how to talk to his younger audience in a grown-up way, never feeling the need to patronise or dumb things down.
Like Moonrise Kingdom in it's style, but almost Superbad in its unashamed humour, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl paves the way for a different kind of young adult movie and let's hope it gets the reception it deserves on the post-festival circuit.
A charmingly cynical depiction of an unlikely friendship that never once slips into being saccharine or becomes too hard to swallow.