“I have no idea how to tell this story. I don’t even know how to start it. Like: I guess I could use one of those classic story-beginning sentences. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But what would that even mean?” This is the opening sentences of the 2015 teenage drama/comedy Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which is also based on the 2012 book by the same title, and also a movie known by some of my friends as my favorite movie of all time. I figured that since it’s my birthday I’d just share with my (few) readers my opinion on my favorite movie. Shall we get started?
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a teenage movie about a socially awkward and very depressed senior high schooler who has been able to avoid getting in trouble with anyone but also has not made any real friends (except for Earl, but we’ll get there later). Until one day, his mom forces him (by the way, his name is Greg) to visit Rachel, a girl from his school who just barely was diagnosed with leukemia and they end up developing a friendship. Simple plot so far, right? Wrong. Because it doesn’t turn out the way normal teenager movies would. Like the Fault in Our Stars or A Walk to Remember to mention a few. No, to quote Greg “So if this was a touching romantic story, this is probably the part where a new feeling would wash over me and our eyes would meet and suddenly, we would be furiously making out with the fire of a thousand suns. But this isn’t a touching romantic story.” So, they become friends. This makes the movie feel fresh, like really fresh, because the approach they are taking on the story feels new somehow.
I have to admit that since this movie came out in 2015, I have seen it about 14 times and don’t regret a single one (okay, maybe once or twice that I regret watching it with some people who didn’t care for it. Other than that, I don’t regret watching it). With this out of the way, every single character is great, a perfect satire of every movie’s character. We have the awkward “different” but really loving parents, to the really helpful, cool and great teacher. Every single character is a satire of itself, to the point where it becomes original all over again. Take for example a very secondary character like the limo driver towards the end of the movie, a character that talks to much and asks uncomfortable questions, making fun of all those drivers who talk to much in real life. Like him, every character is a representation of everything that is common taken to the extremes of what a teenage mind sees. (As many may know, teenagers’ tent to exaggerate experiences in order to give a story a better flow, or to make it more interesting or funnier) But why do all the characters seem so ridiculous or exaggerated? Well, let’s get there on this next section.
Now, as I quoted at the beginning of this review, Greg (our main character) is writing something, now, I don’t want to get into detail what he’s writing because, spoilers and stuff (this reminds me, I should also write a review on Scott Pilgrim vs the World), but we know that he’s narrating everything that is happening, he’s talking to the audience and constantly explaining things from his weird, awkward and mostly negative perspective, which makes the book one sided for a big part. Oh, right, the movie and the book are not the same, shocker I know. See, in the book, you just read the paper you see Greg writing at the beginning of the movie, but everything is from his point of view and seems a little narcissistic and boring, in the movie, yes, Greg is narrating everything that happened with him and Rachel and Earl, but we see everything that happens not only from his perspective. This actually makes the movie better than the book, because we see all the things that Greg does, but doesn’t say, plus we get a clearer message of how self-hating he is, he even gets called at by Rachel towards the middle of the movie.
So far, I have only talked about the basics of the movie and why it works so well, but you may ask yourself, “why do you love this movie so much? What makes it so special?” and here’s were I will explain one big reason (the other reasons will be explained towards the end, where I will begin to speak with spoilers and all, but don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything without a warning). You, as my normal reader, must know that I love movies (“Oh really?” yes, really) and one thing that I love is classic cinema, although I haven’t watched as much classic cinema I still love learning about it, but here’s the thing, every time I watch this movie I understand a new detail I didn’t understand the previous time. This movie is pact up with so many movie references and so many pop culture’s references that it’s difficult to hate, specially if you are a fan of cinema. If you don’t know much about it you might not understand most of the references (I love the Modest mouse reference as well, but that one is about music so I won’t give it as much time). Let me explain a few for all of you who don’t know much about classic cult cinema. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that Greg and Earl make some films, they are terrible (Earl’s words not mine), but they still make them. The thing is, they are not really made up movies, but actually they are parodies. Here you have a few that I loved:
The movie they work on during the duration of the film is a parody of 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now by director Francis Ford Coppola (also known for The God Father I and II) only here it is called A Box O’Lips, Wow. We also get a glimpse on another movie that Rachel is watching which is the 1971 youth brutality satire A Clockwork Orange (By Stanley Kubrick, I’ve talked about him before as well on Moon) only that here it is called A Sockwork Orange. Let me get over a few great once really quick. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg) to Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, also by Stanley Kubrick) to Eyes Wide Butt. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) to Vere’d He Go? One last one, Peeping Tom (1960, Michael Powell) to hilarious Pooping Tom. And many more, the point is, they make fun but also reverence (somehow) all these classic movies, and I enjoy every single reference.
Something else we need to address is how interestingly filmed the movie is, and I mean this in a different way from any other movie I have talked about before in my blog. For example, Joker is stunningly beautiful, 1917 is incredibly complex since it looks like an uncut scene. The Lighthouse is shockingly terrifying to say the least. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a whole different thing. It captures Greg’s anxieties and uncomfortable moments perfectly. Take for example the cafeteria shots, notice how they are so cramped that they make you feel like you can’t even breath properly, not only do the walls seem narrow, because of the angle of the camera, but the room feels like if it has no breathable air. Let’s take for example another scene. When Greg explains his deal with Earl, we see a young version of Greg in front of Earl’s house when Dopey (Earl’s brother’s Pitbull) begins to chaise Greg, we see here that the camera drops 90° and stays like that for a few moments only to drop “get up” again. There are many moments that are really impressive to say the least and that I really love.
One last thing before we enter into Spoiler territory. The music makes this movie feel complete. I can’t imagine this movie with a different selection of indie and underground art rock, or any other kind of music for that matter. Take the last thirty minutes of the movie and really focus on the selection of music, do you feel the emotions they are trying to express? Now try to place another style of music. It’s impossible, like really impossible. Take for example the very touching and memorable scene from the half of the movie where Greg spends time with Rachel and we hear the “I’ll Come Running” song by Brian Eno, it seems silly and statically beautiful, but look up the lyrics, they give the whole scene a more direct intention or interpretation.
Before jumping to the big spoilers (in case you haven’t watched the movie and you are still reading for some reason, seriously, what’s wrong with you), let’s contemplate my favorite running gag throughout the movie. Actually, it’s two, but one is more important than the other. The none important one is Greg’s lunch. I don’t know how many times you noticed but every time Greg has a brown paper lunch bag it has something written on it, I won’t spoil you what they say, but put attention at them, they are pretty funny.
Now, let’s talk about the actual content that you can take from the movie, for this I will get further inside the movie and I will spoil it, like, a lot. So, you’ve been warned.
Now, to my favorite running gag. “One last thing. Hot girls destroy your life. That’s just a fact. It doesn’t matter if the hot girl is also a good person. She’s a moose, you’re a chipmunk, she’s just wandering through the forest, oblivious, and she doesn’t even know that she stomped your head.” This makes me laugh every single time, specially the one time when Madison grabs Greg’s hand and you just see the moose stumping and jumping on the poor chipmunk. Yeah, I needed to get it of my chest. I think this is true though, there are girls who just couldn’t care less and play with insecure guys who don’t know how to behave around them. So, don’t be like that, I guess. That’s all I have to say about this topic.
Now back to the serious stuff.
I was really, really pissed at the movie the first time I watched it, because two times we hear Greg saying that Rachel survives… two times. But she doesn’t, she just dies and somehow you are left hollow and broken. But the second time I watched it I noticed something, at the very beginning of the movie he already told us she was dying. Let me quote: “All right. Look. I’ll just start. This is the story of my senior year of high school, and how it destroyed my life, and how I made a film so bad it literally killed someone.” Well it technically does kill someone but not because of the movie but the cancer, so not technically. You decide if the movie killed her because I’m about to give my opinion.
You know how sometimes you see that very sick people who are almost dying seem to wait for something before they actually die, be it, they are waiting for one of their kids to go visit them one last time and literally the day after that they seem like they are getting better and die. I think there’s a reason for it, it’s the same thing that keeps people alive after they have been injured when in reality the injury would have been fatal, it’s like if they have a strong intention to keep living at least for a little longer, or at least until they get to do this or that. Well, we could say that their will power is the only thing that is keeping them alive. This is what happened to Rachel. After Rachel and Greg get into a fight over her deciding to stop treatment, Greg decides to cut her out of his life, when in reality that was the last thing that he wanted to do. See, here’s another moral to the story but first let me finish this. What he wanted was for her to not die, obviously, but in reality, he was thinking about himself, he didn’t want her to stop treatment because then it would all mean that everything, he did for her did not favor him in return. He was being a bad friend like Rachel said, let me quote that conversation:
“STOP IT” yells Greg.
“Don’t yell at me” says Rachel.
“So, you’re just gonna give up. That’s it. To hell with college. To hell with the future”
“You’re just gonna give up and die. What the hell is wrong with you? It’s your life.”
“Yes, it is my life. And it’s me lying in bed all the time with a shaved head, and getting weaker and uglier and more miserable, with no hope in sight… I’m the one suffering through this, not you. So, don’t yell at me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not going to get comfortable with watching you die. I’m just not. So, don’t ask me to.”
“If you can’t accept that I’m going to do what I want to do, with my life, then you’re a terrible friend.
“I’m a terrible friend? I’m not giving up. I’m not ruining my friend’s life by giving up on the whole world.”
“Please. Greg, you should be overjoyed. Now you can go back to your life of being invisible and detached and self-hating.”
This whole scene (and this is just a fraction of a very sad and emotional scene) just gives us the whole problem for the final act. It’s the moment where Greg realizes that he has been doing this for selfish reasons, not because he really cared, but because it felt good to be needed, to be attached to worry about something other than himself, but it was still about himself. Now, back to the movie, or the meaning behind making a movie for Rachel. It wasn’t something Greg really wanted to make to begin with and after she stopped treatment, he had less intentions of making it, then why did he make it? Well, for very complicated reasons. See, he ended up falling in love with Rachel, if not in a romantic way in a deeply emotional way, but he was more in love with the idea of helping her get better, because it made him feel better. But if he was being all selfish about this, why did he visit her before prom? Why did he finish the movie? Well, because he realized that it was never about him, (when he went to visit her, he literally says that it’s about him “Look. I understand that I’m not doing you a favor here. What I’m asking is for you to do me a favor… Please. Let me hang out with you for one day. I can tell my mom we hung out. Then we’ll both be out of each other’s lives. Deal?”) and this movie is a love letter to Rachel, a way of telling her that he was wrong and that he didn’t regret being with her, even if she didn’t fulfill his expectations. In other words, he was detaching himself from his selfish desires and thinking about what she really wanted for once. This “film” is one of the clearest excretions of true love that I haven’t seen in many movies, because it’s not selfish (anymore), it’s pure, it’s clear, it’s sad, but it’s accepting and hardly anyone gets it right like them.
Now, one of my biggest questions for the movie was, if Greg is writing this as a way of justifying his bad grades for the past semester, then why does he say that Rachel doesn’t die, twice in the movie? Well, Greg says “I know I told you she doesn’t die, and I’m sorry. Deep down, somehow, I didn’t think she would, but she did.” But I think that what he really meant was that: He still couldn’t accept the fact she did, and making the readers think she didn’t was a way of keeping her alive for longer, that if maybe they would think she was still alive, he could feel her presence again. This is typical denial tactic, just accepting that they don’t want to accept. It happens more often than what we think and I think that it is very genuine.
There are so many things we can talk about, so many scenes to dissect and so many morals to learn from, but I want to focus on one last one, the one we get at the very end of the movie. One that was already mentioned by the history professor and that Greg finally embraces and accepts as his reality. “Rachel’s ashes were scattered in a park behind her house. Apparently, she ran away from home once and tried to live there. It was this story her aunt told at the funeral. She was trying to become a squirrel. She thought she could turn into one by just being in the forest and wanting it really bad. I guess maybe that’s what Mr. McCarthy meant, about someone’s life continuing to unfold. It was weird to be learning something new about Rachel after she died. But somehow it was reassuring as well.” This is what hold down the whole story, which gives it credibility. Because it doesn’t show Greg mourning over Rachel, or realizing that he’s a failure and has no future, no, he embraces the present and realizes that Rachel wanted him to become better and shoot further up.
And that is the true beauty behind Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, realizing that life is not simple or controllable. It has ups and downs and no matter how much you try to take control over it, it will eventually change you and who you are for better or for worse, it doesn’t forget and it doesn’t forgive, but it moves forward. Realizing that you can’t do anything about the outcome makes you powerless but also gives you the opportunity to drop everything you are doing and contemplate time passing you by. But mostly, it teaches you that death is just that and life doesn’t end with someone else’s death, it simply changes.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this review. Tell me what you think about this movie? Keep in mind that this was my opinion, so feel free to let me know what your opinion is.
What should I review next? Tell me in the comment section below.