Yay! Who doesn’t love a romantic comedy about someone who is slowly and miserably dying of cancer?
Everything about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl doesn’t make sense. On paper it simply shouldn’t work yet curiously it all somehow comes together nicely… a bit like jelly baby vodka.
The most curious of all is Earl (RJ Cyler) who is both friend and colleague of Greg (Thomas Mann) who is also the titular ‘Me’. Earl is so vastly different to Greg that their friendship doesn’t make sense and simply shouldn’t work – come on, I’ve told you this already!
Earl is from a poor neighbourhood which has forced him to be streetwise, confident, clever and brutally honest. He chooses to exile himself during his lunch hour to indulge his love for old and obscure cinema. He does this because the theatrics of daily school life are irrelevant and menial to him.
Greg on the other hand keeps just enough of a friendship with the jocks, the goths, the nerds and every social group in between whilst at the same time keeping his distance from all of the above. Bordering on the narcissistic he constantly demonstrates a lack of self esteem leading to him being often self-abasing. He too chooses to exile himself lunch to indulge his love for old and obscure cinema. Unlike Earl; Greg cares so much what everyone else thinks of him that he walks the line of invisibility to avoid conflict at anyone’s hand. Exile is the easy life.
I think what is so mesmerising and instantly likable about Earl is partly his resolve in distancing himself from the rest of the hormonal school throng but mainly because he is the equal and opposite reaction of Greg. Without Earl Greg is just Casper the friendly ghost; amiable but unseen by most.
Both Greg and Earl are beautifully cast and do a fantastic job of portraying an awkward and independent friendship. If you are someone who, like myself, has questioned where they fit in society then you will probably relate to Greg in some way whilst also seeing something in Earl that you wish you were.
Let’s not forget our dying girl Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who is every bit as good a character as the other two. What is brilliant about Rachel is that as she gets sicker she retreats into herself which only serves to make you connect to her more. The film somehow manages to portray the sentiment of “I can’t imagine what it would be like” as Rachel clearly suffers. There is no ‘braveness’ there is no life changing rhetoric there is only a descent into depression. Let’s face it though; sadness is often as important as joy – Inside Out proves this point eloquently.
I guess this will put some people off though. It’s not a happy film. It asked for a shot of ‘mono no aware’; a beautiful sadness and got a triple instead. There isn’t much to smile about in this tearjerker so if you are on the verge of breaking this will be like a brick through a window. It’s also not overly funny. Yes, it’s amusing and there are some moments that will make you giggle but this isn’t a comedy this is an Indie film.
The themes and story aren’t the only thing that identifies this as an indie movie as the visual language is not something you will find in the Hollywood mainstream. Normally you expect a character looking left will have some space on screen to the left of the character for them to ‘look in to’ but not here. Some of the shots are in the wrong orientation and the framing doesn’t make sense and simply shouldn’t work – wait… I feel like I’ve been here before!?
What I haven’t mentioned before is the only other aspect that I found a bit of a turn off and that was that the film is narrated by Thomas Mann. It’s from his point of view as if he is writing a story but it’s not needed. Sometimes it helps with building characters but other times it detracts from the poignancy.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl avoids everything that you would expect from a life-affirming romantic comedy and throws in so many curve balls that you would swear you’ve downed a litre of that jelly baby vodka. Somehow the film comes together and manages to walk straight line, touch it’s nose and recite the alphabet backwards with hardly any faults. Impressive.
- Great casting
- Interesting filming
- It’s not overtly funny
- Because it’s not a happy tail
- The narration