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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

DVD Of The Week: Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (2015)


Seventeen-year-old Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) has engineered a survival strategy for school which involves superficial friendships with all the various cliques, but no real friendships.

His only real friend - who he describes as his "co-worker" - is Earl (
RJ Cyler), who he has known for years.

Together they secretly make deliberately bad movies, parodies of the arthouse movies they have grown up watching.

Some of these we get to see excerpts from, dotted through the film.

One day, Greg's parents (Nashville's Connie Britto and Parks & Recreation's Nick Offerman) tell him that the daughter of one of their friends has been diagnosed with leukemia, and they'd like him to hang out with her.

Reluctantly, Greg goes round to the house where Rachel (Olivia Cooke) lives with her wine-swilling, inappropriately flirtatious, mum Denise (Molly Shannon), and an awkward friendship begins.

When Rachel meets Earl, he tells her all about the films the boys have been making, and so, naturally, she wants to see them.

Eventually, word gets out about both Rachel's cancer and the boys' filmmaking, and a girl called Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) suggests that Greg make a film for Rachel.

Although it appears to follow the structure of many a teenage romance movie, that's not what Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is about, as our narrator - Greg - often reminds us.

It's a film about the bonds of friendship, and the fact that - as long as you are listening - there is always something new to discover about another person.

This point is brought home in the closing, Usual Suspects-style, scene when Greg is looking round Rachel's room, piecing together all the clues to parts of her life that he (and we) knew nothing about.

This is quite a brave step as it's throwing new information at the audience in the last moments of a movie, but it works here because the idea had been foreshadowed by Greg's cool history teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal).

Employing one of my favourite movie tricks, Greg's also not the most reliable of narrators. Near the start of the movie he tells us how it is going to end, then actively contradicts that a couple of times later on.

The way the character of Greg is written, he's also not the most immediately likable of protagonists. The shields he puts up to protect himself from the pain that comes from attachment also makes him come across as quite selfish and self-involved at times.

Even as his friendship with Rachel grows, as her illness worsens, he has a knack of making it seem more about himself.

Ultimately, his redemption comes through the film he is making for Rachel, that he struggles so hard with.

Because of my own medical history, I don't usually do well with films involving real disease and death, and I'll admit I got a bit teary on a couple of occasions here. I only really picked this up for Olivia Cooke, who has a track record for playing sick girls (Bates Motel, The Quiet Ones), but I'm glad I did.

Yes, it's heart-breaking, but there's a wry, dark humour in there as well, that rather than trying to put a Hollywood happy ending on the story, instead tries to suggest ways to cope when things go to pieces.

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