Some of the most beloved high school movies — from The Breakfast Club to 10 Things I Hate About You and even Mean Girls — utilize the same, tired trope: categorizing students into boxes labeled Geek, Jock, Burnout, etc. "It always seems so false in high school movies," says Thomas Mann, the 23-year-old star of Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, Sundance's number one darling. "It's more fluid than that, at least where I went to school," he says. "The stoner kids hung out with the jock football players, and the nerdy kids, and the skaters — whatever."
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, which premiered at 2015's Sundance Film Festival and took home both the Audience and Grand Jury awards, is about high school senior Greg, who is forced to befriend Rachel, in his class diagnosed with cancer who he hasn't spoken to since kindergarten. Greg is a socially awkward and sensitive teen, who remedies his insecurities by staying amicable and at arms lengths with every socially defined group at his school. "I think it says more about Greg that he has to make sense of people by putting them in a box, versus this is where these people really belong," Mann says.
The film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, surrounds the social constructs of high school, but feels more authentic than most films in the genre. A mix of exceptional editing, direction, camerawork, and acting (which includes performances by Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, and Nick Offerman as the teens' parents) contribute to the movie's critical success.
"I don't like watching the typical awkward teenager who's really shy — that's not relatable," says Mann. "He has to have something that you like about him. I like that Greg is confident enough in a way, but deep down he's very sensitive and insecure and doesn't want to make those connections. If you see why he's selfish and why he's protecting himself, I think that's whats relatable and what people can hopefully see in themselves."
Newcomer RJ Cyler also found the script to be irresistibly relatable. "I read the script and I was like 'Why am I not in this already? This is me. This is me on paper, his name is just different.'"
Making up the final third of the title's equation, Bates Motel's Olivia Cooke plays the dying girl, Rachel. "I was wildly unpopular for the first three years of high school," Cooke says of her social status. "But then I got a side-fringe, a sweepy side fringe, and everyone copied me and I became popular for like, a second. Everyone saw my side fringe and was like, 'Did you see Olivia's side-fringe? I want it too!' I copied it from Jessica Alba in Honey," she says, adding: "I couldn't wait to get out of high school."
Cyler concludes, "Nah, high school was the shiznit."
See Me and Earl and The Dying Girl in theaters Friday, June 12. Watch the trailer below:
Images: Fox Searchlight