Arts Review, Movies

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl featured image

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, dir.
Jesse Andrews, script based on his novel

Starring: Thomas Mann (Greg Gaines), Olivia Cooke (Rachel Kushner), Ronald Cyler 111 (Earl), Jon Bernthal (Mr. McCarthy), Nick Offerman (Mr. Gaines), Connie Britton (Mrs. Gaines), Molly Shannon (Mrs. Kushner)

The last thing anyone wants to see is another sappy film about a teenager doomed to die of cancer. The Fault in our Stars did that genre to death last year, leaving romantic teens around the world weeping in the aisles, eager to recommend the film to friends. Happily, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl takes a far quirkier and more realistic approach to a drama about a teen dying far too young.

Set in gritty Pittsburgh, the new film is almost eagerly the opposite of The Fault in our Stars. His mother pushes the film’s narrator Greg Gaines into an awkward friendship with Rachel Kushner, a classmate who has been diagnosed with leukemia. They become friends but never lovers. Greg and his African-American pal Earl let Rachel in on their big secret: they want to be filmmakers. The two have made over 40 parodies with titles like A Sockwork Orange and Pooping Tom. Bits of their low-budget videos are shown intermittently throughout the film and always cause a smile—and occasionally a big laugh. (Greg’s impersonation of maverick filmmaker Werner Herzog complete with a very poor German accent is definitely worth a chuckle).

Rachel catches on quickly to Greg’s defense mechanism in dealing with people: he lacks self-esteem. She helps him to work harder on getting into college and to acknowledge his emotions. Before meeting Rachel, Greg always referred to Earl as his “co-worker,” a strange moniker for your best friend. In return, Greg is able to make Rachel laugh—something that she needs as her condition worsens.

Writer Jesse Andrews who adapted his own novel and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a former Martin Scorsese assistant, have created a film that is remarkably light on its feet despite its dramatic subject. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Festival and is sure to be a summer hit—though hardly as big as The Fault in our Stars.

Teenagers are bound to like this film—and so will adults if they give it a try.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

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