Looking Back at 2010s Films: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

4 Jan


by Tanner Smith


What is the purpose of my “Revised Reviews”? To express new thoughts about a particular film that are different from what I initially had. That’s the beauty of continually watching films–while the films themselves don’t change, our attitudes toward them do. We can praise films for being great and then in good time they can become some of our favorites. Or we can think less of them as time goes by. My personal favorite type of film is one I think is “OK” or “fine” at first but then gets better and better with each viewing, to the point where I can call it a “favorite.”

This is probably why it was a mistake to publicly post about my Top 250 Favorite Movies. Maybe the Top 100 was enough. Creating the Next Top 150 only meant many other films wouldn’t slip in over time. (Hell, there may even be a couple films that could sneak into the Top 100 over time. See what I mean?)

Anyway, I gave three stars to a 2015 indie comedy-drama called “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and now I’d give it three-and-a-half. This is after watching it countless times since it was released.

How many three-star reviews have I written for movies that eventually ended up on my personal-favorites list? I’ve lost count.

Seriously, there’s The Dirties, Gremlins, The Monster Squad, Dazed and Confused, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, among others, that I’ve initially rated a measly 3 stars out of 4.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” isn’t in my Top 250…but it might be in the Top 400 (if ever I make one…which I won’t…publicly…). But why?

While I praised the acting from the leads, the charming atmosphere, and the revealing bittersweet ending, I complained very much about two other things–I called them Excessive Comic Relief and Kind of Aware But Not Quite. For the former, I was referring to the side comedic characters (particularly those played by Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon) who seemed like they were there because there wasn’t enough comedy already given by the droll commentating lead character, his wisecracking best friend, their natural appeal & chemistry together, and especially the amateur home movies they make. (This is always my pet peeve in independent dramedies–a lot of them seem to have quirky side characters for the sake of…having quirky side characters.)

And yes, I’ve read the book this film is based on, written by Jesse Andrews who also penned the screenplay for this film adaptation. These characters work a little better in the book, but only slightly.

And for the latter, I was referring to the characters pointing out that they’re partaking in cliches that were done in other movies involving teenage friendships–just because you say you’re doing something doesn’t make it any different.

But I did mention a lot of the things that I did like about the film, hence the three-star recommendation. How was I supposed to know I would end up watching the film several times after, just for the things I really like about it?

What has grown on me with subsequent viewings? Well, for one, there’s the dialogue. I know I harped on a lot of the self-awareness of the characters, which much of the voiceover narration focuses upon, but when we actually get to see these kids as regular high-school kids, they sound very authentic (with a lot of intentionally awkward “uhs” and “ums” and stammers here or there) and have a lot to say. And as such, they’re not only likable–they’re real.

That’s another thing I like about the film: the lead characters are great! Greg (Thomas Mann) goes through a brilliant character arc in which he learns that he needs friendship in his life, and Earl (R.J. Cyler) knows he and Greg have been friends the whole time (even though Greg won’t acknowledge it) and ultimately becomes the one that has to talk sense to Greg. They make films and they go to high school, where they have very little social status, but they don’t take it all so seriously. And the more I watch the film, the more I realize how unserious they are in their filmmaking…and when you think about all the pretentious analyses we get from filmmakers and film scholars, especially from the indie film circuit nowadays, seeing these kids treat their films this way makes me smile.

Then there’s Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the titular dying girl. Critics complained that she’s more of an “idea” than a “person,” much like the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope…THAT’S THE IDEA! We’re not supposed to know the real her–we’re supposed to get an idea of her: Greg’s idea. That way, when Greg realizes there’s so much more he could’ve known about her, it’s all the more tragic.

And I also like that it’s a film about friendship. It’s a film about a teenage boy and girl who form a relationship, but at no point are the two romantically linked. Maybe they could’ve been, if they had taken the time to get to know each other more and decided to take another risky step further. But then again, maybe they would’ve been fine as just friends. That’s not something you would expect in your average teen film, but there you are–this is not your average teen film. It’s better than that.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl got high honors at the Sundance Film Festival; it’s a shame it didn’t get higher praise for Oscar season (like Best Adapted Screenplay?). And for good reason–despite the heavy subject material of an awkward boy befriending a cancer-patient girl, the story is told effectively with useful benefits, instead of resorting to melodrama. It takes realistic characters and forces them to ask questions about themselves–about what they must go through at this crossroads in life, how they must react when someone is in turmoil, how useful they can be in certain situations, etc. and so on.

And the more times I watch this film, the more I think about THAT rather than the things I complain about.

To conclude, I also love this dialogue exchange, after Greg and Earl are accidentally stoned (don’t ask): GREG: You can’t tell them we’re on drugs. EARL: Why not? (pause) GREG: Because then they’ll know.

That line (“Because then they’ll know.”) makes me cry with laughter each time I hear it.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] High School Dramedy—“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Eighth Grade,” “Booksmart,” “The Edge of Seventeen,” […]

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