It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
With a quote from The Tale of Two Cities was how Me and Earl and the Dying Girl began. Based off the novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews is a story about Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a self-proclaimed socially adaptable yet oddly cynical teenager, and his journey through a ‘doomed’ friendship with a Leukemia-diagnosed school mate of his, Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke). Along with his colleague and friend, Earl Jackson (RJ Cyler), Greg unknowingly exposes himself to experience highs and lows that he would otherwise never go through.
Having learnt that Rachel had been diagnosed with Leukemia through his mother (Connie Britton), Greg was thrust into beginning a friendship with Rachel, whom he would not have considered. Being a social blender, Greg had distant himself from ever making friends with anyone in his school with the exception of Earl, whom he had known since kindergarten. He would never talk to a group for more than a minute and he never ate in the cafeteria – to avoid getting associated with one group in general. So, when his mother made him initiate a friendship with Rachel, he felt compelled to have to break his own rules.
One of his strict rules included not showing the private films he made with Earl to anyone. Because of his negative view of himself, Greg always labeled his films as terrible and no one was to view them at all except for him and Earl. Having visited Rachel, Earl lets her in on the secret fact that they were film-makers. Excited and intrigued by this, Rachel asks to view one of their films which Earl gladly obliged. Greg was uncomfortable with the decision at first but took it in his stride as Rachel slowly starts viewing more than one of his films. However, the breaking point came when Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) comes to Greg and Earl during one of their film-making sessions and asks them to make Rachel a film. Pressured by the moment, Greg agreed; even though he didn’t have any intention to do so.
What came next was the struggling process of making the right film for Rachel. A week turned into a month and Greg still wasn’t done with the film. All hopes of wanting to make this a surprise also went up in smoke when he discovers from Rachel, that Earl had told her about it. Greg starts to feel his world crumble around him as he begins to lose control over his life. Rachel had given up Chemotherapy and on their supposed friendship. Earl and him no longer talk to each other. The film still wasn’t done. And his acceptance to Pittsburgh University had been receded. Everything that Greg had once been able to hold together had fallen apart.
After a meltdown at home with his mother, Greg goes back to school the next day in hopes of catching up with the assignments he had missed. His teacher, Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) tries to help Greg make sense of what he was going through but when he tells Greg that he was a good kid, it triggered Greg’s denial of being thought of that way. He cuts school and heads home to where his father (Nick Offerman), tells him that Earl dropped something off for him. He goes up to his room where he sees a post-it note with the words ‘I’m Out’ scribbled on it and a flash-drive underneath. He plugs the flash-drive into his computer where he views a message from Earl for Rachel. Through this message he learns why Earl had treated Rachel so differently from others.
On prom night, Greg decides to visit Rachel where he presents her with a corsage and the movie he made for her. After which, Rachel went into a coma and passed away 10 hours later. Through this friendship, Greg finally learns what it was like to care for someone who cared for him; even when they hardly knew each other well. Like what Mr McCarthy told him, even if the person wasn’t around anymore, there were always new things to learn about the person. And Greg finally understood what that meant.
I really enjoyed this film and that’s not just because I’ve read the book. The core of the story, for me, was about a teenager who learns to care about someone else even when he explicitly expressed his unwillingness to. It is the little things that one does for a person that changes that person’s life. In Greg’s case, he never knew how much joy and comfort he was bringing to Rachel by just talking to her or spending time with her. It was the little things he said or did that put a smile on her face. He didn’t know that he was helping her just as much as she was helping him.
Even though their friendship began on a forced note, Greg slowly grew to like Rachel in a platonic way and was starting to care for her albeit his horrible way of showing it. In most ways, he cared about the people in his life but he just didn’t know how to show it. It’s fair to say that eventually, Earl and Rachel helped fix his problem. Through learning how Earl had been so candid with his message to Rachel, I’d like to think that it somehow started to make sense for Greg – that he needed to grow up and be a part of life and its daily struggles.
The part that moved me deeply was the film Greg had made for Rachel. Though it might have seemed like one of those nonsensical artsy film, it was pure and simply meant for Rachel. He showed her the things she cared about – her mother, Earl and him, along with other things that were painstakingly put together by him. In some ways, I think Rachel passed away peacefully with a lifted mood. Greg’s kind gesture to her was something she felt and even in her final hours, she knew that she had made a difference in his life, just as he had in hers.
The splendid performance from the cast leaves you feeling like you are a part of their story especially Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke, who were brilliant in their portrayal of the two main characters. The vulnerability of their characters showed just how good their skills were. Being able to pull the audience in is a huge feat, especially when it is tough viewers like me. But their portrayal pulled me in for the start and I instantly felt like I was a part of their story. Needless to say, I definitely see more leading roles in their future for these two!
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is truly a remarkable film helm by a wonderfully-written book. A thoughtful film that gets you thinking just how much of a difference you can make in a person’s life with even with the smallest gesture.