Sunday, August 2, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl [2014] (directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, screenplay by Jesse Andrews [IMDb] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] based on his novel (2012) by the same name [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) is a fun teen oriented film/story about senior year in high school that (look at the title) pretty much has to end up sad.  As such, though interestingly a number of the younger film critics links to whose reviews I list above _hated_ the film (for it's, eye roll, cliches) my guess is that a lot of less "film-schooled" teens / young adults will / have enjoy(ed) this film.

The film is about a tall, somewhat lumbering, amiable (to hide his awkwardness) geek named Greg, the "me" in the story (played by Thomas Mann) who's successfully figured out the lingo/customs (fist bumps, high fives, peace signs ...) of all his school's cliques just so that he could avoid them all ;-).  To do so (avoid them), he eats lunch away from the cafeteria in some out of the way book stack laden office with his quite cool, goatie mustached / heavily tattooed history teacher Mr. McCarthy (played wonderfully by Jon Bernthal) and several other misfit refugees.  Together they honestly make up a clique of their own (and quite elitist at that) but don't have the awareness (here) to see themselves as that.  High school ;-).

But to be a clique would probably require that these refugees congregating in this out-of-the way hide-out during lunch watching "Criterion Collection Great Movies" under the direction of above mentioned cool and goatied / tattooed history teacher admit that they were friends, something that apparently seemed too "simplistic" / "petty bourgeoisie" for them them to do.  Indeed, throughout the film Greg _insists_ on calling fellow Mr. McCarthy refugee, Earl (played by RJ Cyler) to _everyone_ outside of Greg's internally quite-active but thoroughly detached-to-feel-safe mind HIS BEST FRIEND SINCE CHILDOOD, his "coworker" and Earl doesn't mind (!) ... Apparently "friendship" is just a "label" describing a relational state that "coworker" largely expresses without commitment-carrying "baggage."

But why "coworker"?  What are they "coworking in"?  Well over the course of the last 2-3 years (since they've been congregating with Mr McCarthy's other misfits, watching said "Criterion Collection" movies) they've made some 40 or so "spoofs" of said movies.  And they are amusing:  "Tulip Box Now" (instead of Apocalypse Now [1979]) -- featuring the two, Earl dressed in combat fatigues, dropping oragami paper tulips of various colors to a box, with Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries [wikip] playing in the background, begging one or the other say the famous line from the original: "I love the smell of [...] in the morning."  Another features Earl, now dressed in a cowboy hat, strolling down some busy Pittsburgh boulevard in "2:48 PM Cowboy" (instead of Midnight Cowboy [1979]) with Harry Nillson's Everybody's Talkin' [wikip] from the original's soundtrack playing in the background. A third involves white sock puppets playing out their rendition of Clockwork Orange [1971], their spoof named ... guess ;-).   The spoofs are brilliant / funny.  But typical of the two -- and here in fairness, typical of high school students in general -- they DON'T show these spoofs to anybody but themselves.

Enter then "the dying girl" Rachel (played IMHO quite well / realistically by Olivia Cooke).  The daughter of Greg's mother's best friend (the two mothers, Greg's and Rachel's played by Connie Britton and Molly Shannon respectively) Rachel attended the same school as Greg, but prior to her illness the two didn't interact much, Rachel belonging to her own small clique of friends and Greg, belonging to none.  Well Greg's mom guilts Greg to visit Rachel.  Shiela O'Malley of (perhaps significantly _the only woman_ among the reviewers that I list above above) found Rachel's acceptance of Greg into her life at this point unrealistic.  Perhaps, but I do think that given the friendship of the two mothers that Rachel could have well reacted in the manner that portrayed in the film -- with appropriate initial skepticism but not outright rejection (and Greg too wasn't particularly thrilled by the prospect of interacting with someone outside his previously very small "safe zone"). 

What Rachel does is do (for Greg) is _force_ Greg to "open up" and not in some cliched sense but really _open-up_ to a world that previously he had cocooned himself from.  In the course of their emerging friendship, she comes across his / Earl's videos and ... likes them.  Then Rachel's BFF Madison (played wonderfully with both _kindness_ and, with respect to Greg/Earl, unattainable aloofness - "in your dreams" ;-) - by Catherine C. Hughes), who hasn't seen Greg/Earl's films but has heard of them from Rachel, guilts the two into making a movie for Rachel.  Again, she hasn't seen their films and doesn't really have an idea of how much work / soul would go into them, BUT she thinks it'd be a _really nice thing_ for the two of them to make a film for Rachel.  How honestly wonderful!

This then sets up the rest of the movie, as, needless to say, making a film like that was not going to be easy ...

The question of why (some) people _die young_ is of course one that someone in my line of work (as a Catholic priest) inevitably (and with some regularity) has to confront.  The existence of suffering in this world is of course a mystery.  But this film does offer perhaps some matter for reflection on the matter (and here readers note that Rachel and her mother were Jewish):

It does seem that ONE EFFECT of Rachel's certainly _undeserved_ suffering was to force the others around her to "become better people" than they previously were.  If not for Rachel, Greg would have almost certainly slept through (lost) his senior year and possibly a good part of the rest of his life.  Faced with Rachel's suffering, he was forced to "wake up" and respond with kindness. 

Wonderful, what did Rachel get out of it?  One could say that she given her "stage 4 cancer" she would have _died anyway_ (no matter what anyone, including herself, did).  But she did leave the world BETTER (by making both Greg and Earl better people) tham it would have been if she had done nothing with her suffering. 

It makes for an interesting point of departure for reflection (and again remember Dear Readers that I come from a faith tradition, Catholicism, that certainly believes that suffering _can_ be redemptive.

Anyway, a very kind film that could give teens both male and female much to think about.

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