Ever since I was little, I would cringe at the thought of sentimentality. Any time I watched a film that felt trite and unrealistic, I would enter a repulsed state. I suppose it was not sentimentality itself that necessarily bothered me, but rather, the insincere portrayals of it that I often observed onscreen. I absolutely loathed when characters shared their feelings for each other or individually had realizations that felt like a bunch of bologna. “How did these scripts get sold? Did the producers who bought said scripts even take a look at them first? How are movies like this funded when there are so many genuine, untold stories out there?” These are just a few questions that ran through my mind whilst watching these particular kinds of films. I think it is safe to say that anyone who considers themselves a “film buff” values authenticity within the dialogue of a film, and within the overall chain of events that occur. If you are like me and get severely disappointed when films start to feel like sappy soap operas, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film for you.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl effortlessly achieved what The Fault in Our Stars tried too hard to achieve and failed to do so. There, I said it. Sort of like when Selena Gomez sings and has the vocal range of a choir kid who lost their voice before a recital while Demi Lovato has the lung capacity to even make her sneezes sound operatic. I just compared my initial statement to two ex-Disney Channel stars. Moving along. I suppose my biggest frustration with The Fault in Our Stars is that it felt like Gus and Hazel’s experiences with cancer were romanticized to create a fantasy. Although yes, loss is depicted in the film, I felt like this loss was merely used to heighten the love story, and not to emphasize on the realities that cancer patients face. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, on the other hand, did the opposite.
Rachel (played by Olivia Cooke), a senior in high school, is diagnosed with cancer. Besides telling a few of her close friends, she keeps her cancer a secret. This, however, does not last very long because her mother Denise (Molly Shannon) informs a fellow peer’s mother (Connie Britton). This peer is Greg (Thomas Mann), and he is actually the narrator throughout the film. We follow Rachel’s experience through the eyes of Greg, but without devaluing it. From the very beginning of Greg and Rachel’s interactions, it is established that Greg begins to visit Rachel because his mom asked him to. Which I know sounds awful but it eases the film into a humorous, relatable light. Haven’t we all been forced by our parents to hang out with people we don’t know? Now, you’re maybe thinking, “But Cristina, doesn’t this comedic tone take away from Rachel’s experience?” The laughter actually makes the film feel all the more real. It’s what allows Rachel to explain her situation, like how awkward it is when people don’t know how to react to her after hearing the news of her cancer. It’s also what gives the characters dimension by taking us through their lives in an interesting way.
So I’ve explained who “Me” and “Dying Girl” are, but I have not introduced Earl yet. Earl (RJ Cyler) is perhaps my favorite character in the entire film, because he’s so down to earth. He does not tolerate bullshit and says what’s on his mind. He’s thoughtful and sensitive towards others’ feelings while maintaining his edge. He’s cool, calm, and collected but he would sock you if you stepped out of line. He’s just very aware and genuine. Although it would be easy to dub Earl as the “Token Black Friend” since he gets less screen time and is the only POC with lines (besides his brother and school principal), I, as a POC myself and a person who really cares about representation, realized that he was given the “voice of reason” role. Supporting roles of color (is that even a real term? Now it is) don’t typically get this type of responsibility. It’s usually the main character, who is usually white, who gets to make all of the thought-provoking discoveries. Not this time. Greg makes himself look like a jackass on multiple occasions, and Earl is there to save him each time. If you felt weird when you read my tidbit about Rachel’s experience being told through Greg, the inclusion of Earl actually makes Greg remove himself from his ego and realize he will never be able to fully understand what Rachel is going through. This is how most friendships go about. We do not always understand what our friends are going through, but we can make an effort to make their lives a little brighter, even if we aren’t always 100% positive that we’re doing a great job at it. It’s the effort that counts, and I think that’s what I find the most authentic about this film.
I am going to transition into talking about one of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s artistic choices that I think all film-lovers would appreciate. Ever since Greg and Earl were kids, they would re-enact old films but would change the names of them. For example, one of the films they made is called “A Sockwork Orange” instead of “A Clockwork Orange” and sock puppets are used. Wired published an article called “How They Made Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s Mini-Movies,” so I highly encourage anyone who is reading this to check it out. The article states that the mini-movies are a nod at Gomez-Rejon’s favorite directors and that they were filmed during breaks. How cool! I especially loved the use of stop-motion. Even though it’s obvious that professionals were the ones who made these mini-movies outside of the film’s world, it still inspired me thinking about it within the film’s world. I often feel petrified by my own creativity but Greg and Earl just go for it because why not? Rachel begins watching these films, even though they made a pact to never show them to anyone else. Greg and Earl invite Rachel into their vulnerable world, just as she invites them into hers.
From Pixar to Studio Ghibli, from Live-action to Claymation, from Wizards to Hobbits, from French New Wave to Horror, from the symmetrical, warm-hued dream of Wes Anderson to the dark, twisted nightmare of Tim Burton, from the bloody, vengeful mind of Quentin Tarantino to the theatrical, contemporary spirit of Baz Luhrmann, 20-year-old Cristina loves it all. Her desire to study film at Seattle University sprung from a childhood of video store rentals and collecting movie tickets (she currently has over 100 tickets and made a mini curtain out of them). Picking her favorite films makes her anxious because she doesn’t want any of them to feel left out. However, she does thoroughly enjoy Amélie, Everything is Illuminated, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Mostly because they stab her in the feels. Yeah, those are good. Hit her up (or creep) on Tumblr: noirness.tumblr.com and Twitter: @cristinarwhal.