Quirky coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. Thankfully this one figures out how to give us a fresh take on adolescence handling life and death. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s first movie was a typical horror film misfire, but with this flick, he finally gets some things working right. It was surprising to see this quality given his previous film work (The Town That Dreaded Sundown was horrible), but after seeing his pedigree (Glee, American Horror Story) it’s cool to see him craft a good work here.
Dying Girl tells the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), an aloof high school student who has done his best to stay invisible during his school career, mildly interacting with the various student groups. And also making sure to stay far away from the cafeteria, a wild battleground of high school groups. Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) and father (Nick Offerman), somehow oblivious to the fact that childhood acquaintances may not hang out anymore, break the news to Greg that Rachel, a girl from his high school has leukemia. Thus starts his mother’s insistence that he attempt to hang out and comfort her, much to Greg and even Rachel’s dismay, at first.
Greg naturally connects with Rachel despite his selfish and loner attitude and eventually opens up to her. Or rather, his best friend Earl (he refuses to call anyone his best friend, Earl remarks) pushes Greg to show his short films that they have created since childhood to Rachel. She really takes a liking to them and to Greg who refuses to make her a film and this begins the tension between Greg, Rachel and Earl that helps him figure out how to genuinely care about another person. I can’t go further without spoiling key plot points, but the journey to this realization is great and filled with very good moments of laughter and pain as Rachel deals with her deteriorating condition and Greg’s acceptance of love and dealing with his feelings.
Overall, I enjoyed the interesting take of interweaving Greg and Earl’s films into the narrative. Rachel and Greg’s conversations take the cake throughout the entire film, but the occasional inclusion of: Greg’s father and his oddities (Offerman is hilarious as usual in a very eccentric role); Greg’s history teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) and his odd relationship with Earl and Greg; and the other high school categories being represented by various characters all weave together for a great slice of growing up that’s fun and hilarious at moments. But somber enough at the end to make sure we walk away with something.
I’ll give it a 8 out of 10