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Every year we get a slew of coming of age stories in which, often, if you don’t live near a metropolitan area, you have to wait weeks, or months, for it to come to a theater near you. Now, with Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl I initially skipped seeing it during its opening weekend, despite still being a fan of Olivia Cooke and rather interested in the movie. So let’s see if I prolonged myself joy, or spared myself the travel cost to head off to New York.
Trigger Warning(s): Cancer
Review (with Spoilers) – Below
Characters & Story
The protagonist of the film is Greg (Thomas Mann) who has trust issues. As for why? Well, his would be friend, but only named as a co-worker, Earl (RJ Cyler) believes it started with his mother (Connie Britton) calling him handsome, and that lie making it so he couldn’t trust a soul. That is, except Earl who comes from the poor side of town, and with that has the attitude of an urban youth, but has bonded with Greg through making spoofs of movies.
However, outside of Earl, it seems Greg doesn’t have much in the way of friends. He has many acquaintances, who he has superficial relationships with, but pretty much in the pursuit of remaining neutral, he doesn’t really participate at all. That is until one of his many acquaintances, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) gets cancer. With her getting sick, and Greg’s mom forcing him to spend time with her, so blooms a forced friendship which leads to Greg letting his guard down a bit. To the point where it seems Rachel maybe the first person, who isn’t blood-related, to really invest in Greg’s future and gets to see some sort of vulnerable side to Greg.
When it comes to any coming of age film, or films featuring teens in general, there seems to be a consistent difficulty in not only finding actors who can portray teenagers well but giving them lines which don’t make their characters seem pompous and unreal. Both issues Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl dodge for whether it’s the conversations, especially between Greg and Rachel, or how everyone portrays their own unique character, almost everything feels authentic.
Though what I perhaps liked the most was Earl. If only because I love the idea of an urban kid in a film like this not being treated as some sort of victim, pet project, or anything like that. Earl, no matter how urban he may seem, is shown to have just as much of an interest in film as Greg and does everything from the acting to helping with their set pieces, and it makes it so, ultimately, you can’t say Earl is a sidekick but almost like Greg’s equal in a way. Granted, he doesn’t get the same amount of focus or screen time, but you are ultimately given the impression that Earl’s life doesn’t stop just because he isn’t on screen.
Putting Earl aside, I must say Cooke and Mann made a nice on screen combination. For while the film only does moments of hinting at them getting together, before dashing it away, it does build on the idea that a boy and a girl can be friends, and nothing more. Yet, while being friends, still be supportive, laugh and joke together, and not have a slew of awkward moments in which it seems the writer(s) are trying to prep you for them actually getting together.
But, to focus specifically on Cooke, what I like about her performance is that it really makes me think that she could be more than someone’s love interest. Which, again, is thanks to this movie not presenting her as one, but as an actual person. One who loves to do stop animation like Greg, make beautiful art in books and isn’t going through cancer with the hopes of some boy to fall in love with. No, Rachel initially rejects Greg’s forced pity, and even after he has established himself as a friend, she questions his motives since it seems he is basically more about habits, and passively getting through life, than actively being a participant. Pushing the idea that while she may be part of making Greg a better person, in the long run, Rachel’s character isn’t going to be used for that and tossed aside. Ultimately leading me to believe that between the roles she chooses in the future, and how much better her performances are getting, Ms. Cooke definitely will have a career outside of the suspense/ horror genre.
Leaving one last thing to compliment: the stop animation. Something which is used throughout the movie, to either express how Greg feels about this girl named Madison  (Katherine C. Hughes) or as part of the films Greg and Earl make. Which, I’ll admit, aren’t the best things out there, but they do go well with the overall spirit of the film. If only because they add onto the idea that Greg and Earl’s work isn’t as horrible as they say, and that they put a lot of time and thought into their productions.
To begin, pretty much all the adults of the film are the usual odd ones you’d find in Coming of Age films. Whether it is Greg’s Dad (Nick Offerman) who is a straight up eccentric who seemingly was cast to be some sort of comic relief; Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) who is supposed to be the cool teacher, who helps changes the protagonist’s life; or even Denise (Molly Shannon), Rachel’s mom, who, even considering the circumstances, just never finds the same authenticity that the younger actors have.
Though, in general, I would argue that as much as the film has the awkwardness of youth and conversation down, the emotional side to things it doesn’t necessarily do well at. For even with me loving Earl, Greg, and Rachel, I didn’t find myself even teary eyed during this movie. Which isn’t to say it is necessarily the actors or writers fault, but just that this film has a general tone which didn’t lend itself to really feeling like a gut punch for you were prepped from the beginning of the inevitable. Which, mind you, Greg tries to convey won’t happen, but SPOILER, Rachel dies anyway.
Which does bring up another thought: Considering Rachel has cancer, it is sort of weird that her established friends only get one scene in which they interact with Greg. For, all things considered, you’d think when Rachel and Greg were hanging out, between Earl and Rachel’s friends, it would be more than just the two of them.
Also, and this is just something that annoyed me just a little bit. With Earl, as much as I have met people like him, I must admit the person in me who likes positive portrayals of Black folk wondered why he, and his brother, kept mentioning Greg needing to touch Rachel’s breast. Though considering they were both teenagers, albeit seniors in high school, I guess sex should have been mentioned in some form or fashion.
Overall: TV Viewing
To be honest, if I spent almost $20 bucks heading to New York and back to see this, I would have felt I wasted my money a bit. For while the film contains fine performances, and only the adults aren’t that likable, it doesn’t deliver the gut punch you might have been expecting. Yet, with that comes the beauty of the film. In the pursuit of being authentic, it neither begs for you to laugh at anyone’s awkwardness nor perhaps beg you to cry due to Rachel’s fate. It simply presents one young man’s journey from being someone with a low self-image, and perhaps hardly capable of trusting, to someone who willingly invested, and spent time with, someone he knew from the start could die. Thus leading to the TV Viewing label. For while Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl may certainly not be a classic, it definitely will be considered a highlight of all the young actors in their filmography and likely will lead to bigger and better opportunities.
Things To Note
: Madison is Greg’s crush, to a certain degree, but he doesn’t at all pursue her. Thus lending even more authenticity since with Greg’s low opinion of himself, it would be strange for him to go after a girl who he portrays as really being out of his league. As for the character herself, she is sort of bland and slightly weirdly written. Especially during a scene in which she is trying to push the idea of Greg making a film for Rachel in which either the actress over does it or her direction makes Madison seem a bit weirder than she appears for the majority of the movie.