I’m a sucker for a sad movie or TV show – give me some vaguely sad, swelling music and a crying actor, and bam: waterworks. At the same time, having watched a lot of film and TV, I can distinguish between cheap tricks used by filmmakers to fake emotion, and real narrative emotion.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the latter: you’d think the title tells you all you really need to know and that’s sort of true – but there’s a lot to this film which could easily be written off as just another movie about kids with cancer. Originally a book (written by Jesse Andrews), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl makes the leap from book to big screen remarkably – the film stands up on its own, and the cinematography and visual style is so distinctive and particular, it’s hard to imagine that it ever started as a book at all. As someone who has (regrettably) not read the book, I came into the film completely cold, knowing as much as one can from the title.
The strong point of the film is just the sheer simplicity of it all: it revolves around Greg (Thomas Mann), Earl (Ronald Cyler II) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke). The core cast are so suited to their roles – it’s great seeing fresh actors in films rather than the usual young Hollywood darlings. Of course, they’re backed up by a stellar supporting cast including Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and even a brief but glorious cameo from Hugh Jackman.
With the release of The Fault in Our Stars just last year, it’s easy for a cynic to say that teen cancer movies are in – but that would be doing a disservice to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which is beautifully written, expertly shot and incredibly sad. Rachel is the dying girl, diagnosed with leukemia, and her former childhood friend Greg is forced by his mother to hang out with her. It’s a situation that is both odd and strangely relatable, but they do strike up a strong friendship, along with Earl, Greg’s best friend and movie-making partner.
Again, having not read the book, I was struck by how incredibly suited to film the whole story was. Greg and Earl make parodies of classic films (A Sockwork Orange, for example), and there are plenty of snippets scattered throughout the movie. The climax of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is when Greg shows Rachel the film they made for her. It’s an intensely visual story and feels written for film in the best way possible. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung works with the material masterfully, and the score, from Brian Eno and Nico Muhly, ties the whole film together perfectly.
Despite the seemingly obvious title, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a surprisingly nuanced film – just don’t take a date if you cry easily.