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Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Beatrice Smith

High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer. (IMBD)

A couple of minutes into Me and Earl and The Dying Girl I was pretty sure I had it all figured out.

One could probably coin a phrase like ‘Greene’s Razor*’ for the phenomenon that occurs when a successful Young Adult novel is turned into a successful Young Adult movie and rival studios jump on the bandwagon by financing film adaptations of similar novels seemingly overnight.

Just like Divergent rode the ‘tough female protagonist, dystopian love triangle’ success of The Hunger Games and The Vampire Diaries rode the ‘aloof new girl, vampire love triangle’ success of Twilight, so too, I assumed, would Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ride the global success of The Fault in Our Stars, another Young Adult novel about a beautiful teenage girl suffering from cancer that was turned into a film in 2014.

After this somewhat cynical first impression, I was glad to find that, while the idea of a boy and girl becoming friends directly after the latter is diagnosed with leukaemia spells inevitable, heartbreakingly doomed romance, “this isn’t that kind of story.”

That’s the phrase main character and narrator Greg – lanky, socially awkward high school student – uses to dispel the audience’s concerns that this movie will all end in romantic, Young Adult tears.

It’s obvious from the beginning that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is based on a novel – there’s title cards that divide the film into neat chapters and Greg’s aforementioned narration is very self conscious – but luckily it’s one of those adaptations where they’ve actually let the author (Jesse Andrews) have a say.

In fact, they let Jesse write the entire screenplay, so if you’ve read the book and are terrified of the adaptation you can breathe a sigh of relief.

The film is mostly centred around the theme of friendships because, despite being on good terms with the whole of his high school, Greg finds it difficult to call people his friends and it’s obvious he doesn’t want to risk getting hurt by being too involved. This particular facet of his personality becomes an issue when Greg’s mother forces him to befriend the aforementioned recently diagnosed Rachel.

Rachel herself is struggling with the idea of how her peers will relate to her after her diagnosis; worrying that every interaction will turn into “you can do it” and “it’s all part of god’s plan”.

A film with this title doesn’t exactly sound uplifting and funny but I saw the film directly after a long day at work while exhausted from lack of sleep and somehow found myself completely recharged by the dorky, real nature of the film’s characters and the honesty of the dialogue. The plot itself is very nuanced and unpredictable, which made the film thoroughly absorbing.

One of my favourite parts is how Greg and his best friend Earl make films based on ridiculously interpretations of classics, bringing a much-needed humorous element to what can be quite a heavy film at times.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl manages to confront the relentless march of cancer head on while giving Rachel – who is not even allowed a name in the film’s title – time to bloom into more than just ‘the cancer girl’ over the course of the film.

The film’s indie style is, at times, a little frustrating in it’s whimsy – there are definitely elements of Wes Anderson at play – and I would have thought Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Eat Pray Love, Argo, Babel) an odd choice for Director when considering his earlier work, but he pulls it off brilliantly. It reminded me strongly of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now in its quiet suburban sadness.

One of the main strengths of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is simply that it was financed by major studios 20th Century Fox and Indian Paintbrush, which means you get the indie feel without scrimping on the budget. Because of this backing there are stellar actors like Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal nailing support roles and really superb cinematography/animation mash ups, similar to 500 Days of Summer.

By the end of the film I had definitely rethought my first impression – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl wasn’t riding a teen movie wave so much as creating waves (mostly down my face…I was crying).

While Me and Earl and the Dying Girl might not be the dramatic comedy to pull you out of a bad mood or ‘to just put on in the background’, but it is certainly a beautiful, poignant masterpiece of young adult cinema and one that I would truly recommend seeing in the cinema.



*After John Greene, author of popular YA novels (and subsequently adapted films) Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars.

The reviewer was a guest of Palace Cinemas


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author