What could have been an overemotional, teen movie of an awkward teen befriending a leukemia sufferer ends up tackling all the clichés of the genre, paving the way for a new and different kind of young adult movie. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and adapted by Jesse Andrews.
Words: Yasmin Harding, Subeditor: Lauren Burgess
The protagonist, Gregg (Thomas Mann), is a self loathing, dorky teen who has been forced by his mother to hang out with the ‘dying girl’, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) . There isn’t any sympathetic ‘the girl has just been told she has cancer, so let’s hang out with her’ instead, he makes it very clear that it’s against his will. He is reluctant to do so, and is used to keeping himself to himself, staying invisible, and making weird quirky movies with his “friend” Earl. Gregg has a hard time calling Earl his friend, referring to him as the “co-worker”, and his deadpan voiceover is a reminder that this movie isn’t one to follow conventions. It is not a love story, but a story of mismatched friendships that are far from it’s teen movie counterparts.
With movies such as The Fault in Our Stars and Now is Good setting our expectations for a tragicomedy, it really is refreshing to have a movie that brings us back down to reality. Normally, when we watch a movie relating to an illness, we know what will happen in the narrative. Boy meets girl, a relationship forms between the two, and then one of them dies. The end.
Not that this is a bad thing, but we know what to expect. That isn’t to say cancer in movies should be all doom and gloom, but rather less sugar-coated. Even the title, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn’t some heart wrenching title of the sort to follow others in this category. Instead it is straight to the point; it’s clear what this movie is about, and the title alone cuts out the sentimental bullshit. If you are looking for a movie that doesn’t follow illness related movies by the book, then here you go. Watch this, just do it. Here we have reality, no fairy tale sugar-coating cancer. It is smart, meaningful, and about as genuine as it gets when it comes to Hollywood fiction. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has the potential to be a teen melodrama, but it becomes an ambiguous, well written movie with a befitting cast. They are portraying adolescent characters who are clearly not comfortable in their own skin, Gregg especially being unsure of what he wants to do in his life. This could be reassuring to those who are in the same boat.
As Gregg and Rachel’s friendship grows, the self-deprecating narrator ends up trying new things. For the first time, he is forced to deal with some real, raw emotions as Rachel’s illness worsens. Even her mother (Molly Shannon) deviates from the over protective maternal role that we associate with; she is usually drunk and flirting with Gregg and Earl. Occasionally she breaks down over her daughters illness. It’s simply a film that’s determined to avoid the sentimentally that threatens to take over the genre, by giving us different perspectives and avoiding cliché roles.
Another thing to enjoy about this movie is that it is a film that loves and celebrates film. From glimpses of Gregg and Earl’s movies (which give us further understanding of their characters) to making a film that becomes the main plot. Not only that, but the use of long takes and intricate tracking shots all aid in the creation of what can only be described as clever and appealing cinematic work. If that doesn’t cut it for you, it has won awards at Sundance Film Festival 2015; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic winner, Audience Award: U.S Dramatic winner.
Oh, and *spoiler alert* Gregg tells us that she doesn’t die during his voiceover, and uses sarcastic titles throughout to give us a time span, but she does. It’s kind of obvious from the title anyway… Sorry.
You can order Me and Earl and the Dying Girl on DVD now.