The Homespun Charm of Me, Earl, And The Dying Girl

In an era filled with countless teen dramas, and specifically teen novel adaptations, Hannah gives an overview of what makes Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (2015) worth a second look.

If you are looking for a movie along the lines of Lady Bird (2017), Beautiful Boy (2018), or Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), I highly recommend checking out Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (2015). Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the film encapsulates just what it is to be a remarkably normal, slightly awkward high schooler, but with the added heir of melancholy that comes in the form of our deuteragonist Rachel. Played by Olivia Cooke, Rachel has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. As a sarcastic, noncommittal teenager, she shows little emotion to her diagnosis, though the movie sees her grow progressively sicker. 

Our protagonist Greg—played by Thomas Mann—befriends Rachel at the behest of his mother. Eventually the pair—along with Greg’s friend Earl played by RJ Cyler—commit to making a slightly bizarre film to let Rachel know her classmates are thinking of her. The movie’s plot is simply that: two friends getting to know a sick girl, all while apathetically moving through their day to day. This arguably dull narrative allows the viewer to dive into an incredibly real representation of how many of us remember parts of high school to be: taxing, uncomfortable, and for better or worse, indelible.

There are components of the film which comment on our generation, or subsets of it: a depressive lack of emotional self-awareness and refusal to reveal the truth of one’s feelings in personal relationships, a loose appreciation of school and fellow classmates, and an aversion to thinking any more about the future than necessary. All of this is paired with the cinematography of a charmingly ramshackle and homespun movie, which happens to be Greg and Earl’s common interest, and potentially the entire basis of their friendship.

Ultimately, the film tackles Greg’s disinterested disposition by giving him a purpose in spending time with and supporting Rachel. As a whole, the movie’s cleverness lies in its resolutely cliché dialogue and plotline; the story manages to transcend the negative connotation of said description and actually become quite touching, as the viewer can feel an authenticity in its intention. With an 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and having been awarded both the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)  beautifully encapsulates the dichotomy of a “feel good flick” with a sad undertone. 

Moreover, it is one of those films with a very high relatability factor. At some point in your life it’s likely you’ve felt odd about making a new friend, felt out of place in your current friendships, felt ignorant of others’ inner worlds, and felt happy for the little fits of laughter that seem fleeting in the moment but become incredibly precious over time.

Although many would argue the film did not deserve quite the unabashed acclaim it received due to its anticlimactic structure, I would claim that it isn’t so much the climax that we’re meant to take note of. As in many good novels—a medium which this movie happens to be adapted from—the development of the characters throughout the narrative should take center stage. The film has similar elements to the 2015 adaptation of John Green’s novel Paper Towns; when the screen went dark I came away feeling a bit gloomy, but ultimately satisfied at Greg’s character development having been the overarching objective.

In the end, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (2015)  is a must-watch. Its undeniably genuine narrative paired with clever and witty dialogue makes for the perfect midweek movie to break up homework. 

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