PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' Serves as Another White Boy's Life Lesson

Earl and Greg make their movies for each other. When they expand their audience, the framework for their jokes, their references, their bond, changes inalterably.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-06-12 (Limited release)
UK date: 2015-09-11 (General release)

"This is the story of my senior year of high school," offers Greg (Thomas Mann). "How I almost destroyed my life and made a film so bad it literally killed someone." By this he means he's narrating his story, indicated by its title, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's cute that this title gestures toward his high schoolishly incorrect grammar, and perhaps more pointedly, in its also cute rhymes, the individuals who will help him to emerge at the end of this year as the storyteller he imagines himself to be at its start.

The title is cute and a little preemptive too, in that it lets you know right away that the makers -- and maybe even narrator Greg -- have some sense of the conventions in play, the white boy who will be made better by his associations with others, specifically, a black classmate, Earl (RJ Cyler) and a dying classmate, who does have a name too, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). It's not a terrible or new thing to note such conventions and then go on to challenge or make fun of them, improve on them or do pretty much anything other than note them. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl notes.

And so: Greg's year begins as he's contemplating college, or more precisely, contemplating submitting college applications, per requests made by his mother (Connie Britton). College may be a way to do what he wants, which is to make movies, but Greg is unconvinced that it's the only or even the most effective way. And so he resists, in manners you might expect, procrastinating, retreating, seeking distractions. And then his mother finds one for him, a friend's daughter diagnosed with leukemia. This not being quite the distraction he was seeking Greg resists, until he doesn't, because, he tells Rachel, his mom is "the LeBron James of nagging," and also because, well, his film's title.

Predictably fraught in its first moments, the Greg and Rachel relationship is salvaged when they're not together, that is, when he and Earl are making movies. His reason -- which no one quite says out loud -- is that the movie he's making especially for her will keep her alive, as she waits for his perfect product. In the meantime, he allows her to see the trove already made, which means you get to see little bits as well.

You're glad for these bits, themselves bits of the boys' mini-remakes, with titles like “Box Lips Now”, “Breathe Less”, and “A Sockwork Orange”, because they're clever and knowing. You might wonder how, in all of their movie-watching, Greg and Earl managed to miss seeing the one movie the movie that they're in most closely plagiarizes, Be Kind Rewind, the one where Mos Def and Jack Black make movies to save a neighborhood, and oh yes, remind you why you love movies. Earl and Greg's movie doesn't have that in mind. As lovely as Earl and Greg's mini-movies can be, they're distractions, efforts to deflect attention from its frankly sentimental center.

These efforts too often feel like efforts, as if Me and Earl and the Dying Girl knows the dying girl story is unbearably sentimental, even as a conventional life lesson for a white boy. And so the kids are witty, their scripted exchanges witty and rhythmic, their observations pointed. They're also, occasionally, kids, which means they're not inclined to deal well with the most difficult experiences, say, Greg's not quite intentional cruelty to Earl, followed by a make-up fight in Earl's yard, a scene that shows Earl in a space that's not Greg's or institutional. Here you might be inclined to wonder what other movie might have emerged, one starting in Earl's bedroom or in front of his computer.

But then you're getting ahead of yourself, and you remind yourself that this is Greg's movie. And his inability to be inside Earl's house or to know anything about chemo except by way of Rachel's allusion and her bald head. You know that Rachel's chemo is off screen because this is not her movie, but her narrator's. And his movie is self-centered, as its title signals. In this, at least, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl poses a good question regarding how and why movies do their work. Nowadays, when cell phones and the internet make visual content by everyone available to everyone, what makes movies special can seem lost.

Yet once, in an era evoked by the projector Greg uses to show his work, movies had to do with screens and viewers and even groups of viewers. Now, you might not think to ask whether movies need to be seen in order to be movies. Now, you might assume someone sees all uploads somewhere, and also that numbers of views, so measurable, matter more than quality or other sorts of effects, so immeasurable.

Audience might still matter though. Earl and Greg make their movies for each other, and when they expand their audience, letting Rachel inside, the framework for their jokes, their references, their bond, changes inalterably. Watching Rachel watch, Earl and even Greg might have seen themselves differently. But you don't quite see that in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.