Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Our movie nights tend to go something like this:

I scroll endlessly on Netflix, adding a bunch of movies to my watch-list that I may at some point be in the mood to watch but am not currently, ask my husband what he wants to watch, am met with feigned indifference hiding a hankering for a foreign art film and, while maybe in the depths of my heart I want to watch something heady as well, my immediate desire is for something light and fluffy, so I suggest a lot of options of that sort and all get shut down. After roughly an hour and half of going back and forth like this, we decide on a tv show which feels less like a commitment than a film even though we usually watch enough episodes to equal a film and a half.

I made my 2016 watch list to help with this indecisiveness. 90% of the films are recommendations from The Catholic Catalogue. Certain people like to tease that I won’t watch a film unless it has the TCC stamp of approval but whatevs. Those ladies know what they’re about.

The other night, on The Catholic Catalogue‘s recommendation, I picked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and my husband and I both loved it. I think it’s the best possible answer to The Fault in Our Stars.

There may be legitimately good things about The Fault in Our Stars. (Don’t ask me. I read the book to see what the hype was all about and found the writing nearly unbearable to swallow.) However, the reason it succeeds so well is because it feeds adolescent (and not so adolescent) girls’ raging desires for romance. And a youthful romantic story driven by the urgency of death makes it all the more compelling (yolo and all that).

But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which also deals with teens and cancer, is all about friendship and maybe that’s why it hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity. (Though I suspect the cult around John Green has something to do with it.)

We worship coupledom as a culture, and, in the microcosm of high school, that worship is intensified. The majority of young people believe that members of the opposite sex cannot have deep platonic friendships, that to have feelings for another person necessitates pursuing a relationship with that person, that they can’t not be in a relationship at all times, and, as depicted by The Fault in Our Stars, that a romantic relationship is the end all be all of life. (Oh and things like this do not help.)

I don’t want to absolutely discredit the teenage experience of romance, but so many young people are pursuing romantic relationships without healthy relationships to look up to and emulate and without genuine guidance from older friends and family members with their best interests at heart. I think that far more needed than sex ed courses focused on instilling a hellish fear of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in teens and supplying them with condoms because our expectations for them are so low is a cultural conversation about friendship and the dignity of the human person that might inspire them to love rather than use one another. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl contributes to such a conversation.

The main character, Greg, has spent his life avoiding real friendships. He refers to his best friend, Earl, as his co-worker since they make films together. He is on good but superficial terms with all the cliques in his high school so as to escape notice. When his mom makes him spend time with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia, he is resistant. But he does and they quickly become friends.

Greg’s fears that becoming friends with another person will make him vulnerable are soon realized. Again and again, Rachel challenges Greg’s comfortable invisible existence and shallow ties to other people. The possibility of death forces them to truly get to know one another and for Greg to face the possibility of having his heart broken.

However, with true friendship comes not only vulnerability but a richer experience of life. Greg discovers the joy of helping a friend, who is often weak, exhausted, and discouraged, enjoy what might be the last months of her life. When Earl shares their films with Rachel, Greg is angry that he has betrayed something of theirs that is so personal to her. What he doesn’t expect is how liberating and gratifying it is for someone you care about to appreciate those deepest, most vulnerable aspects of yourself.

Earl, who also becomes Rachel’s friend through Greg, for the first time is able to transcend his objectification of girls (at least momentarily) and see Rachel’s unique dignity. In their film tribute to her, he tells her: “It’s just crazy how patient you’ve been. You know, I know if it was me that had cancer, uh… I’d be upset and angry and trying to beat everybody’s ass half the time. So I’m just, I’m just amazed at how patient you’ve been. You, you make me feel blessed.”

Romantic feeling–and much less, sex–don’t have to be essential elements for a relationship between two persons to involve emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and moral companionship. In fact, for emotionally immature people, sensual romance can cloud their vision and obstruct the path to that companionship. Perhaps Greg and Rachel’s (and Earl’s) friendship doesn’t develop in all those aspects but it does show us that young people have the capacity to pursue deep, meaningful, and life-changing friendships.

Of course I can’t finish this review without these oft-quoted lines from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Be forewarned that there is crass teenage humor in this film. Nevertheless, it would make for a great youth group or theology of the body club movie night and discussion…or for a stay-at-home-date-night for people like me and my husband who went to public high school and hated being there lololol

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Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

6 thoughts on “Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

    1. I read Fr. Barron’s commentary around the time I was reading the book and he highlights good themes and makes legitimate points I hadn’t previously thought about, buuuuut Green’s writing is just not my taste.

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  1. No will have to watch the movie AND finally order TCC. I have mixed feelings about John Green: I liked TFIOS but I read it morning sick and hormonal. Plus I root for teen love, having married the bit I fell for at 17. (This seems improbable even to me.)

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      1. Haha I definitely view teenage romance through the filter of my own experience at a massive high school where no boy was dating material and the vast majority of relationships lasted a matter of weeks and didn’t seem to bring any of the parties involved authentic happiness. That being said, I do know several happily married couples who started dating in high school, so it’s definitely not an absolute proclamation on teenage relationships.

        The Catholic Catalogue book is so good! Pretty enough to be a coffee table book, helpful for cultivating a little domestic monastery, and full of all sorts of fun and interesting tidbits. I’ve been meaning to write a review of it.

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        1. I’d be excited to read a review. I find so many Catholicky books I’d like to read but then I just add them to my Amazon wishlist and forget about them because I can’t get them free from the library and it’s hard to decide what to shell out for.

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