Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Yeah – that’s the title. And if that isn’t intriguing enough – let me start by telling you something about this movie. It’s got a pretty damn good cast (most of whom I’ve never seen before) and the director is a Mr. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (who I’ve never heard of as well, although I’m pretty sure he taught my great grandfather how to stitch a wound in the World War).But it’s neither the acting or the direction that stands out explicitly in this film.
The highlight of the film, instead, is the incredibly crisp screenplay.
It’s tastefully witty, thoughtfully subtle and emotionally gripping – all at once. And the writer of the screenplay happens to be the same dude who wrote the novel the movie is based on. So, for my final reveal – *drum roll* – I present to you Mr. Jesse Andrews. What! You haven’t heard of him? The word ‘Search Engine’ ring a bell?
The point is though, this is one of those movies you don’t really hear about much – and yet find so surprisingly good, you’re left wondering why no one’s talking about it (Or maybe I socialise with the wrong kind of crowd). It’s kind of like in the same league as movies like “The Kings of Summer”. And the formula for making it to this “league” is a weird cast of unknowns – and a title that tells us exactly jack shit about the actual movie.
Except of course the “Dying Girl” part, in this case. Because you know – you can’t be more specific than “dying girl”.
So – you begin by knowing someone named “Earl” is going to meet the “Me” in the title, and somehow there’s going to be a “girl” that’s going to be dying (either of blood cancer or an exposure to extremely radioactive satire). Now the movie kicks off with a stellar narration by this “Me”, and like my name, the narration is sarcastic. Incredibly so. In fact – and I’m going out on a limb here – I’ve noticed that the dry humour inherent in British cinema almost always supersedes the slapstick thing American’s fancy, called “comedy”. I’m thinking (curse THOTH for that damn phrase) along the lines of movies like “Snatch” (an all time favourite) and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. The protagonist describes school life in exquisite detail – with all its immaturities intact – cynically going through the “group-ism” phases and the constant fear of embarrassment.
The narration comes to us in the form of carefully crafted self narcissistic monologues.
You’re introduced to errr… “Me’s” family (that sounds like the terrible English spoken by my English teacher in 4th Grade) by way of an agonizingly nagging mother (*nods head approvingly saying “I can relate”*) and a father with a penchant for repulsive-culinary-exploits, who just also happens to be a fan of classic cinema. And that brings me to the second aspect of sharp storytelling in this movie – the extremely well defined impossible-to-forget characters. You need a certain level of ambitiousness to pull of ‘weird’ in a non-disgusting way (unlike “Borat” which, if you haven’t heard about, is perhaps the first time I would applaud you for not watching something I’ve had the displeasure of attempting to watch).
The movie was so relatable for me personally – that about 15 minutes in, I didn’t even realise I was slightly off the mark, and feeding my beard overpriced caramel popcorn instead.
If the sarcastic anecdotes don’t keep you entertained, the “where-the-heck-did-that-come-from” random stop motion sequences about how “hot girls destroy your life” certainly will. These cleverly crafted sequences involve a Moose knitted out of wool (that’s supposed to be the “hot girl”), and errr… a chipmunk carved out of wood (that’s the guy who’s life is destroyed). I swear it kind of makes sense in the movie. And I’m aware I sound like I’m on acid or medicinal weed.
So – small spoiler here – “Earl” happens to be a co-worker of “Me”, and their job involves creating superlatively lame short movie parodies of classics like “The Seventh Seal”, which is actually a pretty awesome movie about playing chess with Death. Their version of that brilliant classic is called “Seven Seals” and is about well… errrr (there’s no nice way to put this)… Seven Seals. Like actual floppy, sunbathing on a beach without a care in the world, seals. Remember when I used the words “superlatively lame” above.
And ta-da…- we know how “Me” and “Earl” met and another “ta-da” later they’re introduced to the “dying girl”, who falls in love with “Me”, and they both live happily ever after.
Or at least that’s how it would have gone in a normal movie. This one though – it’s slightly different. It examines the subject of love and affection – but skirts around the all-too-cliché romantic angle. It shows you how disconnected “Me” is from people in general and how self centred his perception of the world is.
It’s like the writer used the word “Me” not just to tell us, the audience, that’s the perspective we’re viewing the story from, but rather to show how blind he is towards anything not “him”.
In fact – by the time the movie ends, you’ll also realise that the title is literally what the protagonist would have named his own film if it were up to him, because he always refers to himself as “Me” and the girl as the “Dying Girl” in the movie. ‘Earl’ is just – “Earl”, and inconsequential 3rd party who “Me” hangs out with, and suddenly the randomness of the title starts to sound not-so-random anymore.
The movie says different things depending on the lens you look at it from. It is a story about introverts – or about people too scared to enter the battlefield for fear of scars. It is about the use of diplomacy to erect a wall around you, keeping you safe and lonely in equal measure. Sometimes, it is justifying the distance you put between yourself and the world.
Or maybe it’s a story about a boy who stops trusting the ones that love him – simply because he realises that love can make you lie, even if it is only not to hurt the people you love.
You’re led to believe in the movie, that the introvert is actually a shining paragon of confidence. But really, behind the mask, you’re shown the hidden face of insecurity and a simple desire to be wanted.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is unorthodox in the best possible way, opening with sarcastic dry humour, and ending in something else entirely. It describes life and death (it says “Dying Girl”, not “Dead Girl”, so you don’t really know) in a most peculiar way – and takes a deep look at our perception of the immediate world around us. It mirrors the self-pity and the pretend loathing we have for anything not “Me”.
If I were to describe the simple complexities of a movie this diverse – I would probably drone on like a History professor who’s past his time. And there’s only so much I can say in a “spoiler free” review. But if absolutely forced to choose one sentence that says it all – I would turn around (cause the guy who asked was standing behind me) and simply say – “This movie is about– ”
“ – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
And I drop the mic, and strut off stage – marvelling at my genius. (And my unwillingness to think of a better way to say what what the title already says.)