Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s been about a month since I’ve watched this movie so bare with me.

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I read the novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a couple of years ago, sometime after I had read The Fault in Our Stars. I was very interested in “sick fiction,” and I had also read another cancer YA novel whose name escapes me. As expected, these novels are tragic and beautiful, which is what any novel should strive to be if you ask me. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was different, though. I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing puddle when I read its final word, nor did my heart pain in my chest. No, when I finished reading, I simply felt…. empty.

This emptiness often occurs after I finish an astounding book that defies all of my expectations. These books are never what I anticipate, so I usually have no idea how to emotionally respond. It can take me days to weeks to months to form opinions on them, as they keep floating back into my consciousness. They never leave me. They haunt me, they move me, they change everything for me. And these novels are always my favourites.

I think it took years for me to feel this way about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Actually, I know this. It took me until a month ago, when I finally gained the courage to watch the film adaptation.

The movie really solidified these confusing feelings I had towards the novel by telling the story in a beautiful and unique way. I have never seen a movie quite like it. The first person narration (including naming the “sections,” or chapters in the book (or in a movie)! Amazing!) is extremely effective, as it feels like this intimate story is being told directly to you. The viewer doesn’t lose the intimacy the novel provides, as the viewer is still able to access  Greg’s thoughts and emotions. Now, as a book purist, I would still recommend the novel in order to truly sink into Greg’s character, but the movie does an extremely satisfying job.

I’m going to take this moment to state that the acting in the movie is phenomenal. The actors not only look like teenagers, but they also act like teenagers. For the first time in ages, I felt like my teenage self (and self today, who am I kidding?) was accurately represented on screen. The sarcasm, the repressed emotions, the explosion of emotions, the crude jokes… this is how teenagers are, and the script as well as the actors and the director deserve kudos for portraying real people.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a novel that does demand viewing, as who doesn’t want to see these homemade films come to life? The movie does an excellent job presenting them, making them progressively more and more sophisticated, but still unpolished enough to know their purpose and intent. One of my personal favourite parts is the music, because it really does change the mood and the perception of the scene. I’m thinking particularly of the last few scenes here, which did something the book never did– they make me cry. As I watched and as I listened, I was moved in a way that the book could not move me. I was reduced to a sobbing mess, my heart hurting for people I would never meet, yet I somehow know. My conclusion is that visuality is essential to this story; a story about film, and the ability of storytelling to change lives, whether it be oral, visual, or a bit of both.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a story that will stay with you for a long, long time. It is unique, and it is not cliche despite how it may initially appear. It is a story about life. It’s not a romanticization, or idealization. This story hurts, because this story feels true. It’s not a story about cancer, but a story that displays cancer, and growing up, and the unfairness of it all.

But most of all, it’s a story that teaches us to look beyond and see; things are never what they appear to be.

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