The art of dying.”
That’s what comes to mind when I think about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Grammatical errors in the title aside, this whole film felt like a performance art piece, which I suppose it was. In fact all films are right? That phrase sounded more special in my head. Anyway, I digress.
After a long and gruelling day as an organ grinder, I sat down with an oven cooked pizza and watched Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The title is pretty much a dead giveaway (pun intended) for what happens in the film, so you can’t blame me for that spoiler.
Of course, the film is less about death and a lot more about one young woman, Rachel (played by Olivia Cooke) and her journey towards death. It has friendship, light humour, and the awkward hero in the form of Greg (played by Thomas Mann), just as you would expect of an indie film. Shots are cut with humorous homemade films made by Greg and his “co-worker” Earl (or best friend as the rest of us less dramatic people might refer to him) played by RJ Cyler, in their attempt at being pretty bloody talented film makers.
There are some great stop animation scenes in the film that give it a sprinkle of fun which I think had they not been in there, the film would have been seven levels of depressing because you know, it’s still about a dying girl.
What did irk me slightly was the way Greg had his ‘meet-cute’ with Rachel. He’s introduced as this aloof senior; friends with no one and everyone simultaneously, just trying to survive high school by hanging out with Earl and the “coolest” teacher at lunch. This is all fine, and gives us a good sense of his character. But then his mother, Connie Britton (of Nashville fame, although sadly there’s no country music in this film, which I was personally disappointed to discover) insists that he go and see the girl who just found out that she’s dying. This would be fine if not for the fact that we’ve just been shown that they have no pre-existing friendship.
A friend who I was watching this with pointed out this lazy beginning to their relationship and I initially began to postulate that maybe he was just really popular and the parents thought it would make Rachel feel better. Even still, it didn’t really hold up and I did feel a bit cheated by the filmmaker’s rush to get to the meat of the film without paying due diligence to getting buy-in from the audience in a key plot point.
Nevertheless, it was pretty well acted; the naivety of the three unknown actors played well into the teenage-awkwardness-atmosphere that the film cultivated. Plus, Nick Offerman was present (Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation which if you haven’t seen, you need to educate yourself about immediately) and was superb as ever, as a mostly stay-at-home-professor-dad who has tenure and basically gets paid to sit in his dressing gown.
Out of the three main characters though, Olivia Cooke was a hidden gem as the doomed teenager experiencing something no one would wish on an adolescent, or full grown adult for that matter. She managed to bring a tear even to my stubborn eye (I go to great lengths not to be seen crying unless a serious injustice is happening on screen, like in The Colour Purple or Schindler’s List).
It did move a bit slow and was subdued at times, but it ultimately did what it said on the tin, and rather than try to wrap everything up at the end, it closed with a call back to an earlier, seemingly insignificant conversation in the film, and somehow managed to leave the audience with a teeny tiny pocket of hope about life after death.
It reminded me that often when people pass away, it’s not always the death that is the hardest; it’s that you’ve been left behind and you’ll never physically be with that person again. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl showed that there can be beauty and creativity in dying, and that we are much more than just our physical presence in someone’s life.
I give it 3.5 out of 5 Blue Skies (I’ve just this minute made up that rating system) because it got the job done and summoned strong emotions forth, but I feel it could have had a stronger opening. The overall concept though, hit the nail on the coffin – I mean head. Sorry, I know, morbid.