Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and scheduled to hit theaters on June 12th, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is a coming of age story that brings out all of the feels. Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award, and currently holding a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie follows Greg (Thomas Mann), a senior in high school whose mom has forced him to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with leukemia.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” promotes the notion that vulnerability is key to living a full and complete life. By embracing our own quirks, entering new friendships, and applying for colleges, we face the possibility of rejection. But we also face the immense satisfaction that is a result of being accepted for ourselves. Although this movie looks as though it will be just another “The Fault in Our Stars” kind of bullshit, it delightfully steers clear of any of those clichés. Through its Wes Anderson-like filmography and Michel Gondry-like animation, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” creates a unique and humorous perspective on the fear of growing up, rejection, and accepting vulnerability.
Greg’s character is a socially awkward teenager who finds comfort in making good ties with those around him, but keeps a comfortable distance from them in order to prevent any unwanted rejection and critique. Early on, Greg makes a note to the audience that his “friend” Earl (Ronald Cyler II) is not necessarily a friend but a coworker. Having grown up near one another, the two share a similar interest in strange food, obscure movies and filmmaking. Greg and Earl have a series of movie reenactments such as “A Sockwork Orange.” For Greg, labeling Earl as a coworker makes it safe for Greg to be himself. Rejection from a coworker is less painful than rejection from a friend. And falling out with a coworker is less painful than falling out with a friend. It’s not that Greg is a manipulator, or feels as though he sits higher on the hierarchy of teenage life. It’s that Greg is unable to process the idea of being disliked, or the loss of someone close. His distance is a way of self-protection from the unavoidable realities of the world—those realities being that sometimes shit sucks, sometimes people don’t like you, sometimes people go away, and sometimes you’re rejected.
The narration helps the audience understand this unease within Greg, and his inability to make sense of getting close to people who will possibly leave him. At first, the narration seems as though the director is feeding the audience the plot, excluding the active audience aspect of filmmaking. However, going through the film, it becomes clear that the narration is Greg’s way of processing—his way of protecting himself from the pain of losing a friend, an experience he’s yet to have. The narration is not meant for the audience to sit back and relax, it’s for the audience to better understand a teenage brain as it tries to find stability with the concept of something so absurd, death. It’s an addition to understanding Greg’s character.
Rachel and Earl assist Greg’s growth by being their own authentic, quirky selves. Their lack of fear in regards to judgement is a quality Greg is in need of in order to grow up. For this movie, Rachel and Earl are Greg’s peer role models. Earl connects with Greg through their mutual appreciation of solitude and quiet, both choosing to sit in their history teachers office watching Werner Herzog on YouTube instead of wandering into the cafeteria at lunch. However, Earl doesn’t hide the way Greg does. For Earl, the lunchroom isn’t scary the way Greg sees it, he simply doesn’t like it. Greg and Rachel connect over their similar characteristics of quirk and quiet nature. However, Rachel doesn’t hate the world or fear it the way Greg does. Rachel doesn’t look into the future with repulsion and unease, and she also doesn’t believe that the standard next step (college) is as bad as Greg makes it out to be. Both of Greg’s friends prefer their honest selves, despite potential rejection and critique, to the way Greg prefers to exude himself. They’re an example of the transformation Greg must make in order to grow up and live without the attitude of constant disappointment.
Unlike many other coming-of-age movies, they constructed a story that excluded the unnecessary element of love, in the romantic sense. Greg doesn’t find himself through Rachel as a girlfriend, he finds himself through Rachel as a friend who connects with his quirk, movie interests, and unease of growing up. The film deals with larger issues than a simple, romantic story line. (Not that all romantic storylines are simply. Take “Perks of Being a Wallflower” for instance.) A film focused on friendship, finding stability, and making sense of things that are difficult to process. Rejon creates a new and engaging film that get to the deeper, underlying human desire of acceptance. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” emphasizes the need to open ourselves up to the possibility of pain in order for us to experience the satisfaction and happiness of finding where we fit in and being accepted.
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