Coming of age stories about middle-income kids are common, but few rank in the top tier with Rebel Without a Cause, Portnoy’s Complaint, and the great Catcher in the Rye. This one comes close because it displays the horrors of American adolescence so well.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a “normal” teen ager who is fairly adept at what any sane high schooler wants to do, become invisible. He brags in the early part of the film that he is more or less completely unnoticed by his peers. His invisibility cloak is unfortunately ruptured when his mother nags him into befriending a casual school acquaintance who has been diagnosed with cancer. Not only does he have to deal with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) , but he is suddenly noticed, to his shock and terror, by everyone else!
The acting, the writing, and the use of film technique set this story apart from the many similar ones. Greg deprecates everything about himself as the film shows what a fine and capable person he really is. He says he’s incompetent while displaying amazing word skill in the voice-over. He compares himself to ugly animals while his looks grow more and more endearing to the viewer. He looks a lot like a young version of the very likeable master character actor of the 1950s, Chill Wills.
Olivia Cooke had a chance to play up her good looks and depth of character, as she does so well in the TV series “Bates Motel” as the girl dying of lung disease. But she doesn’t. Here, she underplays her role with uncommon skill, as do R.J. Cyler as Earl and all the adolescent actors. All the adults, of course, are presented as a teen-ager would see them, otherworldly weird.
Animation magic helps the director explain the highs and lows of the age of concupiscence when ordinary acting and words couldn’t reach them. I didn’t cry half way through this film because I thought Rachel would die. The narrator assured us that she wouldn’t. I cried because the film was so good at explaining the highs and lows, the pure misery, of adolescence.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Screenplay by Jesse Andrews from his original novel.
105 minutes. PG-13
Photo: Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Facebook.