Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Jon Bernthal, RJ Cyler


Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.


  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is recommended.

    In brief: Death becomes her in this thought-provoking and creative film.

    GRADE: B

    Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the flip side of The Fault is Our Stars. It follows the same premise, a young girl dying of cancer, but outdistances itself from the sappy and maudlin moments with a edgy and wry sense of humor and some imaginative filmmaking from director Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon in his second feature film. He perfectly captures teenage life with all its non-conformity angst and peer pressure and he cleverly mixes animation and live action to help tell his story of young love.

    The director is aided by newcomer Jesse Andrews who adapted the screenplay from his own YA novel. The dialogue is authentic and the film has a lovely quality of the real and the surreal. These well defined characters are far from the caricatures usually seen in today’s teenage romantic comedies.

    The film tells its tale of a trio of friends; Greg (Thomas Mann). the Me in our story, Earl (RJ Cyler) and the dying girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). A begrudging Greg, on the urging of his parents, befriends Rachel, who has just be diagnosed with leukemia. Their camaraderie is the crux of the film that explores friendship and love in the subtlest of ways.

    Earl, Greg’s best bud and partner in amateur film-making, becomes part of this relationship with his support and comic asides. The film’s adult characters are not the usual dullards but interesting if dysfunctional people. Unfortunately they fade into the background when more screen time with them would have only enhanced the story. Nick Offerman and Connie Britton play Greg’s parents and Molly Shannon is Rachel’s drunken mother, all doing fine work here.

    But it is the three young actors who excel in their roles. RJ Cyler blends the cynical and vulnerable aspects into his character. Olivia Cooke keeps Rachel grounded in reality and never allows her character to exhibit any false move or wasteful overacting to convey her dilemma. Most effective is Mr. Mann, who skillfully handles Greg’s mood swings and aloofness with nuance and clarity. As Greg, he has developed one of the most believable teenagers on film to date. His emotional meltdown scene adeptly conveys the anger, frustration, and sadness that adolescents can feel in today’s world. It is a remarkable performance by a talented performer that has a promising career in store.

    The film utilizes Earl and Greg’s independent film parodies to send-up other classic films with some witty and clever results. However, these small comic gems do little to advance the story and some of the characters’ actions seem over-scripted at times. There are also some plot contrivances with several minor characters having far too many quirks in which no one in this world seems normal. Plus the film’s format of labeling the days in this relationship of doomed friends was a tad too similar in its approach to another wonderful independent film, (500) Days of Summer, which successfully mixed the bittersweet with the sweetest of times as well.

    That said, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is innovative and touching. This film has become an indie favorite among critics and rightfully so. It is well worth your attention too.

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  • The “Me” in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl defines hero Greg as the object of his life, not the assertive willful subject — which would be “I.” A self-absorbed teenager, he survives high school by making himself invisible, casually connecting with each of the various groups at his school but remaining insecure, self-deprecatory, unassertive.
    The film itself is his final act of self-assertion. He tells the story of himself, the dying Rachel and his longtime friend Earl as his attempt to explain his drop in grades, hoping to revive his admission into university. Rachel is Jewish, Earl African-American and Greg whitebread bland — so even there he remains invisible while touching upon more vivid subcultures. Greg is so wary of friendship and commitment he introduces Earl as “co-worker” not friend.
    Greg and Earl have been making modest parodies of classic films (e.g., 2:48 pm Cowboy, Vere’d He Go?, The Turd Man), another way to brush up against established character without revealing yourself. Greg is ironic about everything, as teens tend, because he lacks confidence, has no clear sense of himself, is puzzled by the mysteries of life and fears growing up. His stop-action animation clips are another form of imitating life without living it, another form of arrested development.
    At first reluctant to engage with the lukemia-stricken Rachel, Greg slips into a very warm and rewarding relationship with her — to the point of wasting his term at school. He withdraws angrily when she ceases her chemo, because he can’t accept dying. Ostensibly to ease our minds, he twice tells us she won’t die, but that’s a replay of his denial. His history teacher provides the key lesson: Even when someone dies you can keep learning about them. That is, our dear ones stay alive in our memories and in our feelings. The teacher knows that in two ways: (i) from his experience after his father’s death; (ii) he’s a history teacher so he knows to learn new lessons from the past.
    In contrast, Greg’s father is a sociology professor: someone focused on the social structures of the present. He’s tenured, which means he spends all his time at home, in his robe, grizzled, nibbling weird snacks he has made, obsessed with foreign films. That film link defines both Greg’s connection to his eccentric father and his extreme detachment.
    After Rachel’s death Greg makes surprising discoveries about her. She returned his emotional connection, while slightly less reticent. More dramatically, the books he so cursorily noted on his first visit turn out to be sculptures she made, 3-D carvings into the pages with small figures sometimes glued in. They’re the equivalent of his little films in their creativity, miniaturizing real life and compulsive but ironic self-expression. Because Greg found himself caring for Rachel she stays alive in his broadening consciousness. Her death leaves her a richly intense open book, not a sealed fate. So this brilliant, touching romantic comedy is really about the meaning of death — which is the meaning of life and the function of human engagement.
    The minor characters support the theme of Rachel’s unfolding enigma. Both her and Greg’s mothers are strong, odd characters that their friends may only come to understand after they have passed. So too the two teachers, the eccentric sociologist who seems to live in suspended animation (aka “tenure”) and the macho high school history teacher with his tattoos, equally curious cuisine and tradition of letting students watch foreign films in his office at lunchtime. A rich diet of foreign foods and foreign films make the two rather different teachers enigmatically connected. Like Rachel — and as Earl and Greg will have — when they finally pass their dear ones will have interesting backstories to unfold.

  • “I don’t need your stupid pity. It’s fine, you can just go. No, no. You got it all wrong. I’m not here ’cause I pity you. I’m actually here because my mom is making me. That’s actually worse.”

    There are movies I really could dwell on in a lyrical way. Because it’s put together cleverly and cunningly. Or because I could empathize with the characters. Or because the humorous content was taken up throughout the story in a professional way. Call me oversensitive or sentimental. But “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” is a movie that I’m extremely lyrical about. Firstly, because they tackled such an emotional subject in a very clever and witty way. Without significant effort they could have made a major tearjerker out of it, so Kleenex would suddenly see a miraculous growth of its quarterly earnings and cinemas should install additional emergency generators so they could handle the tsunami of tears. However, the end result is the opposite of that. Never before a smile and a tear were so close together.

    This movie is original, sad and funny at the same time. A “coming of age” film avant la lettre. Although the theme isn’t new. Teenage girl Rachel (Olivia “The Signal” Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia. But the course of this deadly disease has been depicted in a serene way. And this with the mandatory involvement of Greg (Thomas Mann) whose mother (Connie Britton) asked him in a rather authoritative way to spend some time with Rachel. What follows is an impossible friendship that grows out into an intimate relationship with understanding, support and hope as important key values. Greg is someone I could relate to because I was basically the same person at that age. A bit of an insecure individual who’s trying to make himself invisible and blend in with the crowd. The message is : make sure no one notices you and use humor, sarcasm and funny one-liners as a defense. Actually, he’s the opposite of someone like Scott Mayhew. This screwed up, freaky goth uses his eccentric appearance to demarcate a territory. Greg’s way of demarcation is to avoid everyone or to maintain superficial contacts.

    The only person Greg usually has contact with is Earl (RJ Cyler). Earl is not really a friend in the strict sense of the word (according to Greg) but rather a “co-worker”. A like-minded with whom he shares a passion for the classics among films. Together they spend their free time making parodies of these classics. These extreme bad films are shown sporadically and made sure I had a few spontaneous laughs. Not because of their probably ridiculous content, but because of the quirky fictional titles such as “Raging Bullshit”, “A sockwork Orange” or “Vere’d He Go?”. It’s fair to say that Earl is a friend for life.

    The Holy Trinity is completed by Rachel. A lovable young girl facing a deadly disease and still she retains a clear look at the whole situation. Clearly someone who doesn’t want or needs pity. Despite the deadly disease, she manages to keep her character alive. She transforms from the closed, dismissive girl who resigned to her fate into a frivolous, blossoming fighter thanks to Greg’s carefree, somewhat clumsy but humorous way. This transformation is completed with one of the most moving and impressing closing scenes ever.

    Each one of these are charming, irresistible interpretations, realized in a highly professional and open-minded way by three unknown young actors. This wonderful cast raise “Me and Earl and the dying girl” to an outstanding level. The end result is a poignant and touching film about friendship and at the same time an homage to classic films. It’s a relief to discover something like this among all the other commercial crap and the umpteenth exploited sequel. Finally once again a fresh, intelligent and original film. And this thanks to the wonderful acting and the willful use of non obvious film techniques (I should mention that as well). A successful end result, perfectly bypassing all the obvious clichés from the genre so it didn’t end up as a common melodrama. Masterly !

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