Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may not be the best teen cancer weepie ever made, if there even is a best teen cancer weepie. But it's surely the most adorable, something like Diary of a Wimpy Kid reconfigured for a slightly older, hipper audience, and with cancer thrown in. It's so carefully designed to feel laid-back that its breeziness comes off like a calculation. But the movie has flashes of wit and originality and feeling enough that when the story twists in directions it maybe shouldn't, it's still easy enough to coast along.
Thomas Mann is Greg, a smart but awkward high school senior with exactly one friend: Earl, played by the half-snazzy, half-deadpan RJ Cyler, who lives on the other side of town, a side not nearly as nice as Greg's. Long ago Greg and Earl found out they shared a taste for European art films, and they have become amateur filmmakers themselves, filling up a shelf with parodies of film-school classics.
Greg's ideas of what friendship can mean get upended when his meddlesome mother (Connie Britton) insists that he ring up a leukemia-stricken classmate he barely knows, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). The two become close, yet, to me, the film's more resonant friendship is the one between Greg (who's white) and Earl (who's black): That's partly because the unspoken ease between the two plays, mischievously, with the idea of the token black friend. Earl and Greg live in separate worlds of stereotypes, but the place where they come together -- the kinship they find over those ridiculous homemade movies -- is a world of their own making.