On its face, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” amounts to a fairly simple calculation. Jesse Andrews, adapting his own novel for the screen, takes the YA weepie “The Fault in Our Stars” and makes teen cancer more palatable by injecting a healthy dosage of hyper-mature, cinematically literate narration comparable to “Easy A.”
If someone asked me to quickly describe this movie, I would probably use some combination of the two movies listed above – and it would be a positive recommendation. But, like any good movie, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is far more than just its sales pitch or just the sum of its influences.
For starters, the film features a vividly realized protagonist in Thomas Mann’s Greg Gaines. I am still a little uneasy by the egocentric nature of the tale, especially given his interactions with Olivia Cooke’s Rachel Kushner, a classmate undergoing grueling treatment for leukemia. But the more I reflect on the movie, the more I come to assume this was intended. After all, “Me” does come first in the title.
Greg reminds me a lot of myself in high school, and I suspect anyone like me who takes the time to write out their thoughts about “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” will probably have some line to the same effect in their review. He’s a droll, quick-witted teenage cinephile who would rather create and consume fabricated narratives than blaze one of his own. Greg fashions himself as nothing more than a loser trying to quietly suffer beneath the cliques that dominate the high school hallways, though his detailed taxonomy of every social group demonstrates that he believes himself above them as well.
At first, I wondered why I had such a hard time connecting with Greg. If he reminds me so much of myself, why should I not embrace this character with whom I so often nod in painful recognition? Then, I made an important realization – maybe people like Greg (and, by extension, myself) are not the easiest to love. Especially towards the end of the film, where I slowly stopped identifying with him, Greg begins drowning himself in a toxic combination of self-loathing and self-awareness.