The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, a Fox Searchlight film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, based on the book by Jesse Andrews.
The blunt, unsentimental title really says it all, doesn’t it? Based on a 2013 novel, the film takes a premise similar to the deeply moving book and film The Fault in Our Stars—charismatic boy provides comfort to cancer-stricken girl—but spins it as a comedy. Well, a comedy-drama, at any rate, but here the laughs outweigh the tears.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is a cocky senior hoping to achieve social invisibility by moving smoothly between cliques at his Pittsburgh high school. His mother charges him with a more important mission: bringing some joy into the life of his childhood friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia. At first neither kid wants to participate in this apparent pity party, but after a couple hours’ awkward chatter they find each other’s company quite tolerable.
Greg quickly realizes he’s got the perfect way to pass the time with Rachel: show her the admittedly terrible amateur films he’s made with his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler). (Their process: alter the title of a classic film a la “Jurassic Skate Park” or “Eyes Wide Butt,” then shoot a no-budget short film based on the new title.) Rachel’s pretty friend Madison presents Greg with a new challenge: make a film about Rachel and present it as a gift. But as Greg struggles for months with this dauntingly abstract project—how do you summarize a life?—his school grades plummet, jeopardizing his college plans. But at least he has a future; in voice-overs Greg keeps assuring us that Rachel will survive, but we’re not so sure.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a proud addition to the recent spate of excellent “teen films” that portray young people bravely facing up to serious issues; the list includes The Spectacular Now, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and of course The Fault in Our Stars. The film draws real magic from its lovely location scenes in the West Oakland district of Pittsburgh, PA, and from the hypnotic Brian Eno songs on the soundtrack. As Rachel, Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) is refreshingly un-self-pitying, rarely shedding a tear on her own behalf, and the talented Mann plays Greg as fairly dry-eyed too. You may make it through this generally lighthearted film with barely a weep. But grab some napkins at the popcorn counter just in case.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is now playing in select theaters. Check out the screening schedule to see when it’s playing at a theater near you. This film is Rated PG-13 and runs 105 minutes. Read the book or listen to the audiobook (performed by the movie cast) too!