The future looms before our eyes,
A tunnel to the next unknown.
It’s too well-traveled to surprise,
And yet we worry and postpone.
For some, the future is a wall,
A bricked-up tunnel, barred and firm.
A grim prognosis cancels all
And makes their fears of shorter term.
Small comfort ‘tis to pray and stay
With those whose lives too soon conclude,
But when our future’s underway,
Distress should yield to gratitude.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Who would have thought that two young adult novels about friendship and teen cancer would be published within months of each other and both would get their own movies within three years? John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is the more celebrated and, in my opinion, the better film, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does well finding its own messages and style that never feel like rip-offs of something else.
Any film set in high school is bound to have clichés, particularly the introduction to cliques and colorful characters, but this film freshens its more familiar aspects with some wildly inventive camera work. The camera zooms and flips and rushes through crowded rooms, and the drily comical narration caused my VC to compare it to the Coen brothers’ style in Raising Arizona. The eccentricities are many, as Greg (Thomas Mann) explains his school, his survival tactics, and his hobby of making ultra-low-budget parodies of classic movies (like The 400 Bros or Senior Citizen Kane) in collaboration with his friend/coworker Earl. When his mother literally nags him into submission, Greg agrees to befriend Rachel Kushner after she is diagnosed with leukemia and even tries to make a film for her benefit.
The first half of the movie has some great clever humor, such as the best hipster cat name ever, but also a good deal of casual crudity. Greg’s inherent awkwardness often manifests in crassness, Earl is impenetrably passive for the most part, and the film often feels like it’s trying too hard to sustain its quirkiness. With all the weirdness on show, Rachel is the most normal character by default; like me, she’s turned off by Greg at first but ultimately won over, and their friendship grows subtly over time, though without the romance of The Fault in Our Stars. As the title suggests, her condition worsens over time, and the film’s tone shifts into dramatic gear. After so much manipulation of the camera, one pivotal emotional scene settles in one perfect angle and is the more powerful for it.
Like Ruby Sparks, in which an off-kilter plot culminates in a perfect ending, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ends on the right note. Does it matter that I don’t understand the movie that Greg makes for Rachel, which is as inscrutably avant-garde as some of the films he parodies? No, because like much of the “I don’t get it” art out there, it could mean anything or nothing, but it meant something to the right person at the right time. Films like this and The Fault in Our Stars can easily be seen as emotionally manipulative, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is at least honest about it, and as the final scenes reveal, there’s more subtlety to admire than first meets the eye.
Best line: (Earl, who after adding little to the story gets the line that inspired my poem, to Rachel) “It’s just crazy how patient you’ve been. You know, I know if it was me that had cancer, uh… I’d be upset and angry and trying to beat everybody’s a** half the time. So I’m just, I’m just amazed at how patient you’ve been. You, you make me feel blessed.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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