I’ve put this off mainly because I really didn’t like the book, as shown in my review here. My coworker kept telling me to watch this film because he really liked it and I finally checked it out from the library because it finally came off the $2 Rental. So below are my thoughts on the film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Warning: there may be spoilers ahead but I think the title helps a lot of that… but just in case.
*Summary: High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Cast/Characters. I actually was surprised at how likable they were in the film compared to the book. In the book, I mostly only liked Earl though his characterization and background really irritated me. However, here, I enjoyed mostly everyone. I think a lot has to do with the actors.
Thomas Mann as Greg Gaines. In the book, I really hated him. In the film, the actor obviously looks nothing like how Greg describes himself in the book, but he still has that annoying self deprecating humor which still wasn’t funny, but in the film the often referenced it as “over the top humility” which is a step up. Mann played Greg with a awkwardness that could be endearing. Also, the “breakdown” scene with his mom was handled very well. This character can easily be extremely annoying but Thomas Mann handles him by dialing that down and mostly trying to appear relatable. But compared to Earl and Rachel, he’s still meh.
RJ Cyler as Earl Jackson. Once again, he was my favorite. I also really like this actor, first I’ve seen him in anything (makes me excited to see him in the Power Rangers movie lol). He was very charismatic, humorous, definitely not as vulgar as he was in the book, seemingly very smart and wise. Greg calls him a “co-worker” (as they make crappy films together) and not a “friend” but Earl definitely considers Greg to be his friend and manages to stick with him even though Greg’s annoying. Just like in the book, Earl is the one who seems to actually makes an effort with Rachel, at least in terms of being honest with her and opening up to her. He also was willing to share their films with her, he tells it like it is. That’s what I like about him and I liked him a lot in the movie. Cyler was a presence, even when he was talking, if he was just sitting there next to Greg, or watching a film, or just watching while stuff is happening, I couldn’t help but to look at him. He commands attention which is what the Earl character does anyway but Cyler definitely helped that.
On the flip side of that, which I don’t want to make his own “con”, while his character is all of these things, he’s also just there to move Greg forward. Which is unfortunate being he’s way more interesting.
Olivia Cooke as Rachel Kushner. Also liked her much more in the film than in the book. In the book, it was hard to even like her because Greg didn’t seem to actually like her, since he’s narrating it was so hard to get close to her so when she dies (Not really a spoiler as it’s in the title) I didn’t care that much but it was so different here. When we first meet her here, she and Greg have a witty conversation, plus her delivery was great, I know the actor is British but she does her accent well here and I liked the deep raspy quality of her voice. Kind of helped make Rachel stand out on her own. At first she and Greg awkwardly become friends as he was forced to befriend her by his mother, but as they get closer, you see her slowly start to take to him but as she gets sicker, Cooke holds a lot of emotion in her eyes. As her character started to give up, she would crumple her face but before that, her eyes would twitch and I actually liked her so when she died (which was such a great scene), I actually did tear up.
The Friendship. One of the stronger aspects of the film. First Greg and Rachel start and it’s cool but they eventually start getting into a groove and it’s cute. He would go over, make her laugh and they would just talk and be in each other’s presence. There are times where he’s trying too hard and she would make sure he knew it, and then he’d calm down. Once Earl knows about it, he asks Greg about her and he manages to meet her himself and he’s much more natural with Rachel than Greg is. Even though Earl doesn’t seem to have other friends outside of Greg, he made friends with Rachel easily. The three of them don’t always hang out together, but the times Earl does, he just shares whereas Greg hides behind his lame humor and “over the top humility” however, as time goes on, Greg keep going over to her house on his own and their relationship is visibly growing stronger, even to his surprise most times.
Three Emotional Scenes. Not trying to spoil these moments but I need to talk about them. The first scene is between Rachel and Greg, it starts off a little heavy but then Rachel attempts to copy Greg’s humor from their first “hangout” and he gets angry. Rachel has made the decision to stop treatment and it makes Greg upset, especially as she would constantly tell him to stop thinking that he couldn’t go to college because no one would like him and other idiotic excuses. Also because she mentioned her mom in the beginning of the movie and he’s upset about everything. The second scene is between Greg and his mother, she comes to tell him that Rachel is in the hospital and that he should see her and he doesn’t want too because of her choice to stop treatment. He is angry at her, angry with his mom for being a busy body and making him go in the first place etc, Thomas Mann played that scene great. The third scene is towards the end, it’s again with Rachel and Greg, he goes to her and shows her his most recent film and it’s just the video, the music and them watching it. So great.
The Music/The Films. I love when soundtracks are great. Sometimes the music detracts when it should enhance and here it helps. This is a Young Adult adaptation, so it has the danger of having contemporary pop music or it could just have composed music and mostly here, it was composed music and it works. Especially at the end coupled with the video. Also, Greg and Earl watch classic/foreign films and remakes them which is one of the things I liked about the book, and the fact that we actually get to see some of that here, I really enjoyed that.
The toned down parts. Hard to label that and I didn’t want to keep comparing the two but considering as I didn’t like the book and actually enjoyed the movie, it was hard. So, I appreciated how certain things that really annoyed me in the book were toned down here in the film. That stupid way Greg goes through high school isn’t as highlighted, he doesn’t makes friends with anyone because there are so many groups that everyone falls into so he doesn’t have a group but he manages to be “friends” with everyone. It’s still stupid in the film but he doesn’t talk about it as much as he does in the book. Earl’s background also changed a bit, in the book, his father was absent and his mother was drunk, crackhead and basically a prostitute or something insane with gang banger brothers and none of that is really present. He still doesn’t live in a “good neighborhood”, his father is still absent but his mother is now just a depressed shut in and he seems to have only one brother (who was funny when he was on screen). Earl wasn’t as vulgar, he didn’t cuss as much and it wasn’t thrown in our faces at his horrible past and how much drugs he used or how much he smokes now. We barely even see him smoke. So that was nice. Also, their dumb humor was massively toned down, sure Greg still has some moments but they’re not as bad as in the book so I appreciated that as well.
The Supporting Characters. Now, I didn’t care for all of them but I still enjoyed their history teacher, his need to always say “Facts” after something, or just his look overall was unique. Greg’s dad was also still cool, he wasn’t in the movie as much as he is in the book but when he does show up, he’s like this hippy like character who makes Earl and Greg try all of this exotic food it’s amusing. I also liked Rachel’s mother more here, she’s played by Molly Shannon who I have a hard time disliking anyway.
Busy Bodies. I soooo dislike busy bodies, mind your own business. Greg’s mom is the first perpetrator of this, by not only going through her son’s things (which look I get it, she’s his mom she can do that) but by also making him go see a girl he’s not even friends with. He tells her that among other things and she just nags nags nags, can you imagine how awkward that must be?? I just can’t even. So annoying. Also, the pretty girl Madison, she finds out Rachel is dying and starts trying to put herself into situations like they’re friends. She basically forces Greg to make this film for Rachel (though yes, he could have easily said no) and keeps asking him about it even though he visibly looks like he’s having a hard time. Like… go sit down.
Lack of Emotion Throughout. Now, I know I mentioned those three emotional scenes which are nice scenes but the movie itself lacks the emotion it might have been going for. Considering the nature of the film, you would think this would be a reflective piece, or a discovery of life, or something and… it kind of touches on those but never actually follows through with any of it. Being that Earl and Rachel are just devices (more interesting devices) to further Greg’s story the movie almost seems one note at times since this movie is ultimately about Greg which I think is where the book failed for me too but that more so than the movie.
It’s About Greg and his excuses. While Thomas Mann made him more likable, he’s the least interesting character presented here so the fact that we’re on this journey with him, doesn’t make us find him more interesting in the end. He complains so much, people don’t like him, he has a weird groundhog face, he has pasty skin and he can’t go to college because it would be much worse than high school and bleh bleh bleh. Nope sorry. Not interested in your whining, yes, sometimes Mann makes him likable but he can’t change who the character is unfortunately. Stuff happens when he actually applies for college and I’m sorry but… real life is not going to accept you because you were trying to make a film for a dying girl. It’s sad yes, but come on. Again, Rachel is just a device for his character who is, at least in the movie, is much more interesting than him.
Greg’s Narration. It didn’t work in the book and it doesn’t work much well either here. I think the film would have been better without it, unless they’re reading letters and what not, like towards the end but otherwise, not necessary. Especially as he would say stuff like “this stupid story” or “if this was a romance…” we get it… you’re not going to fall in love with her. This is not The Fault In Our Stars we get it! Like man shut up!
Overall, I enjoyed this film much more than the book, I actually think it’s better which is ironic considering how the author wrote the screenplay, so maybe he attempted to “fix” certain elements which work but the fact that the story is still about Greg is not very interesting even if Thomas Mann manages to breathe some likability into him, doesn’t help the film. The book often gets compared to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars and while I can see the parallels, that novel actually manages to keep the story grounded whereas this one is kind of all over the place, while using Rachel’s sickness to propel the story forward but she’s not even the main character. The three leads were good in their roles, mostly Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler as their characters are much better here, Thomas Mann again makes Greg likable but not enough for him to be the lead. The music compliments the film well, the chances to see the boys’ creativity with their films, and the fact that certain parts of the book are toned down for the movie. There are three standout scenes that are the most memorable. With that said, the weakest parts of the films being Greg’s involvement, the fact that he’s narrating and that the film is about him when it shouldn’t be. There are other things but those are the most glaring negatives, but if you like the book, you’ll like the movie, even if you don’t like the book, you may like the movie.
Rating: 3.17 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? If so, what did you think about it? Have you read the novel? Do they compare? Which is better in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to like and follow!