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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL: 4 STARS. “a charmer of a film.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 1.12.49 PMWith a title like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” you know the new movie starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke, is likely to be sad. It is sad to be sure but it’s never maudlin or melodramatic and that sets it apart from most other teenage coming-of-age tragedies.

Mann plays Greg, a self-described “terminally awkward” high school senior “with a face like a groundhog.” His main goal is to get through the remainder of his last year in high school without hideously embarrassing himself. Flying under the radar at school means he has few friends and the one he has, Earl (Cyler), he describes as “a business associate.” When classmate Rachel (Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists he reach out to her and he begins a relationship different than any he’s had before.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Greg and Rachel fall in love and he helps her through her illness but you’re off base. That’s what would happen in most other young adult stories. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” takes pains to remind the audience that this isn’t a “sappy love story.” Instead it is a richly painted portrait of a connection between two people that transcends puppy love or a teenage crush.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon embraces the YA form—there are chapter titles like The Part Where I Panic Out of Sheer Awkwardness, strange cinematography and quirky characters—but never fails to elevate the story past melodrama to melancholy, from humorous to honest. It’s a tricky balancing act, aided by terrific performances from his young cast.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is whimsical, funny and heartbreaking often in the same scene. It’s a charmer of a film that sets the bar pretty high for future young adult coming of age stories.

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