Based on the Jesse Andrew’s 2012 novel of the same name, the film follows Greg (Thomas Mann), who is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) after she is diagnosed with leukaemia, as he begrudgingly spends time at her house after school, often in the company of his best friend – and fellow filmmaker – Earl (RJ Cyler). You might think that you’ve seen this film before, but you won’t have seen a film like this.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Glee, American Horror Story) has an unbelievable comprehension of the narrative he is telling. With stunning visuals, an incredibly beautiful score and outstanding performances from his three leading actors, Gomez-Rejon takes the teen high school drama genre and flips it on its head. With use of puppetry, animation, and imaginative cinematography the film is unlike any in awhile. Though while the visuals of the film are impressive, it’s the heart and pathos of the feature that allows for it work on every level, and avoid feeling contrived or whimsical – and that credit belongs to the stellar cast.
Mann impresses as Greg, an awkward, reclusive senior doing everything he can to get through high school without being noticed. Mann takes a character who could easily be unlikable but adds layer after layer of complexity that ensures he’s someone we want to see succeed. But the foundation of this film is Rachel and Cooke portrayal of the role. The British actress is heartbreaking as the teenager diagnosed with cancer. She may well be playing the title character of ‘The Dying Girl’ – but it truly is remarkable just how much life she brings to her role.
This film offers a compatible, triumphant balance of inventive, beautiful filmmaking, with wonderful writing, and career-defining performances. So amidst a summer where explosions, emphatic car chases and comic book super villains take precedence – be sure to make some time and see something a little more tender – you won’t regret it.