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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a brilliant mix of comedy and drama, and a film that’s both cinematically inventive and heart wrenchingly realistic. The settings and characters of the film are unlike anything we’ve seen before, but clearly takes influence from this generations finest films, becoming a passionate love letter to the industry.

The film follows the story of a high school loner named Greg (Thomas Mann) and his eccentric friend Earl (RJ Cyler) who are determined to get through their senior year of high school without making any mortal enemies or committing to a future. When Greg is forced to spend time with their neighbor Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who’s been diagnosed with leukemia. Though their relationship begins strained and awkward, the three teens begin to open up to each other through the art of cinema.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directs a beautiful and materialistic film, and does a great job at keeping a consistent tone. Though many films attempt to blend comedy and drama, Gomez-Rejon cleverly sets the film up as a straight comedy from the beginning. In fact, the first half of the film barely hint at the emotional turmoil that is to come. In fact, that’s part of what makes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so unique; the plot sneaks up on you, and delivers an unexpected emotional punch.

The comedy of the film succeeds at feeling very genuine. The teenagers interact and discuss life in a normal way, and the comedy is absolutely hilarious, but not forced. The stylized direction, many of which involves extended metaphors or striking imagery, succeeds in making the film both natural and cinematic. Though emotion is often translated through humor, the emotional scenes succeed in justifying the dramatic shifts. Unlike the drastic tone shifts commonly found in such films, the film’s tone feels natural, much like the film overall.

The film’s performances are also a major reason that it’s so successful. In a major breakout performance, Thomas Mann’s role as Greg is one of the most genuine portrayals of an American teenager in modern cinema. The awkward, self-loathing role is an extremely relatable character, and Mann’s work is perfectly pitched with the film’s offbeat comedy. In contrast, RJ Cyler’s role offers a brilliantly layered performance as Mann’s coworker and only friend. The two have a tangible onscreen dynamic, and their work succeeds as both comedic duo and a powerful dramatic relationship.

The third role in the film’s trinity of young stars is Olivia Cooke, who’s perfectly cast as the caring yet spunky Rachel. Cooke’s work here is devoid of any melodrama, as the practical impactions of her condition are evident, and shown in both comedy and drama. The tragedy of the film is essentially drawn from her character, and its a testament to her performance that the film is so powerful.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the best films of the year, and a revolutionary breakthrough for the film’s director and young stars. The unique filmmaking techniques and brilliant performances are instrumental in the film’s success, but it’s the strength of the screenplay that puts the film on the pedestal as cinematic powerhouse. Grade: A