“All right, this is the story of my senior year of high school and how me and Earl made a film so bad, it literally killed someone. Okay, maybe that’s not what happened, but my friend Rachel did get cancer and me and Earl did make a film and none of our lives would ever be the same,” says Greg Gaines.
Death can be a difficult subject to tackle in a film. Whether it’s based on a historical event or just plain fiction, it has to be approached and done correctly (even if it’s in a comedy, it must be done effectively to achieve the desired reaction from the audience). It seems even more tragic when it comes to young adults because they haven’t lived significantly long lives and there was still so much for them to experience in life. I hadn’t read John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars so I was naturally surprised by the twist that came late in its film adaptation when I saw it last year. I was also unfamiliar with Jesse Andrews’ novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl when I saw the trailer for its film adaptation earlier this year (although the title does speak for itself). I recently saw Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl on the big screen, and it was a fascinating experience from start to finish.
Based on Andrews’ novel, 2015’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl follows a high school senior who is forced to hang out with a girl his age who’s been diagnosed with leukemia. The friendship that soon develops between the two will alter their lives forever. Andrews, who adapted his own novel, creates a world full of quirky and unusual characters: Greg Gaines (portrayed by Thomas Mann), an awkward teen who drifts through high school while going to the trouble of hardly associating himself with the school’s various cliques; Rachel Kushner (portrayed by Olivia Cooke), a colleague of Greg’s who is diagnosed with leukemia; Earl (portrayed by RJ Cyler), Greg’s filmmaking partner and
friend since childhood; Mr. McCarthy (portrayed by Jon Bernthal), Greg and Earl’s teacher who allows them to hang out in his office during lunch time; Mr. Gaines (portrayed by Nick Offerman), Greg’s father who is also a professor with a love for film and unusual health food; Mrs. Gaines (portrayed by Connie Britton), Greg’s mother who also initially forced Greg to visit Rachel; Denise Kushner (portrayed by Molly Shannon), Rachel’s mother who is trying to cope with being a single parent as well as Rachel’s diagnosis; and Madison (portrayed by Katherine C. Hughes), Greg’s high school crush who convinces him and Earl to make s film for Rachel. The cast delivers solid work, led by winning performances from Mann and Cooke. Andrews’ characters don’t quite behave or talk the way you’d expect them to (which is a good thing because it allows the story to be populated by interesting yet complicated characters). The friendship dynamic between Greg and Earl is fascinating to watch, as is the one that develops between Greg and Rachel.
Andrews manages to create a lot of humor despite the film’s somber subject. Greg and Earl love classic, independent, and foreign films and make their own terrible parodies of them. During one visit to Rachel, Greg hears Rachel’s
Wolverine poster berate him for bringing up death (a Wolverine poster that’s voiced by Hugh Jackman himself in a surprising and hilarious vocal cameo). The use of stop-motion animation for a few brief sequences was also a nice touch. Gomez-Rejon did a superb job in bringing Andrews’ novel to life, drawing impressive performances and balancing the tone between the drama and the subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor. The film approaches disease and death respectfully, crafting a story that is both entertaining and heart-breaking.