by Sam Robinson
Rated M. Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II, Nick Offerman. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
What do you say when someone close to you falls seriously ill?
This is a question that I would say most of us struggle to answer. Some of us might be gifted at finding the right words to say, but most of the time we find it incredibly hard. We can send flowers, write cards, give hugs – but beyond this, words can be difficult.
This is what new film Me & Earl and the Dying Girl explores so well. Set in Pittsburgh, awkward teen Greg Gaines (Mann) discovers a girl in her year at school, Rachel Kushner (Cooke), has just been diagnosed with leukaemia.
Greg’s parents force him to go and be a friend to Rachel – a lovely thought – although he is very reluctant to do so. When Greg first visits Rachel it’s super awkward, and neither of them really enjoys the experience, but soon Greg makes more time to hang out, and the two develop a genuine friendship.
Through their time together, Rachel discovers that since his childhood Greg and best friend Earl (Cyler II) have been making pun-based parody homemade films, including such works as Senior Citizen Kane and Crouching Housecat, Hidden Housecat. Through her chemotherapy treatments Rachel watches her way through this library and Greg and Earl are prompted to make Rachel her very own movie. But it turns out that the task of making the perfect film for a dying girl who soon decides to end her chemo treatment is harder than it seems.
Me & Earl… is a superb film. It’s beautifully indie in look and feel without being pretentious. It’s an emotional drama with a balanced dose of humour, challenging every cliche and keeping you guessing. And it will move you to tears more sincerely than any Nicholas Sparks film ever could. Director Gomez-Rejon has taken a lot of care to craft this script well, and the execution is near perfect. Comparisons will be made between this and The Fault In Our Stars, but this film is far better.
‘The best of times, the worst of times.’
As mentioned above, Me & Earl… deals with how different people respond to, and talk about, sickness and uncertainty. Greg’s father (played by Nick Offerman, AKA Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation) consoles a worried Greg with a simple, ‘It sucks quite a bit.’
We all face hardships in this broken world, and it can be awfully hard to know what to say. I haven’t suffered much in my life, but I know many people who have. For some, suffering seems to be one of the big hurdles to trusting in Jesus – because, why would a good God allow suffering and evil in the world?
Me & Earl does an excellent job of addressing the fact that cancer sucks. And it does! And we get to see a number of different responses to Rachel’s cancer.
As I mentioned, Greg’s mother forces Greg to visit Rachel, and really she is doing a great thing – getting him to look past his needs for someone else.
Greg himself tries to cheer Rachel up through his adorable awkwardness, but over time it’s not the words that seem to make a difference, but rather his friendship and presence. There are scenes where Greg will just sit for hours in silence with Rachel in her bedroom, and it speaks much more sincerely compared to a default generic throwaway line offered by a Christian schoolmate: ‘I know you’re Jewish, but God has a plan for you.’
Lines such as this, and others from Rachel’s schoolmates, are actually a good reminder to us that often well wishes are shallow and unhelpful. If we are going to speak, then maybe – as this movie suggests – thinking our words through carefully will make a real difference. But I think Greg shows beautifully that walking with people is also really important.
Of course, we have a wonderful message of hope in the gospel that goes beyond death, and this should motivate us to spend time with people through their suffering. If we are to speak, we can ask our Heavenly Father to give us, and our suffering friends and family, strength and the right words to say – as well as the willingness to care genuinely and spend time with those who need it.
Trust me – go and see this film. It’s one of the best of the year, and will help you appreciate life, and challenge you to spend more time with those you cherish. Five stars.
Me & Earl and the Dying Girl will be released in Australia and the UK on Thursday, September 3rd. It is currently screening in the US.