I want to beat Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to death with a sledgehammer. Then, after it’s been legally declared dead, I want to beat it some more, set fire to the entire building I beat it to death in, and then salt the earth after the last embers have died out, just to make absolutely sure that it cannot come back. I hate this movie. I am angry at this movie. I realise that much of what you have read so far is decidedly unprofessional and that my credibility is taking a flying leap out of the window because of it, but you need to understand: I am not exaggerating. I despise every last frame of digital imagery that this film was shot on.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sucks. It just absolutely sucks. It sucks in ways that are really obvious but are so hard for me to communicate because every single time that I think about this movie, I start swelling up in an uncontrollable rage and sputter angry gibberish like Yosemite Sam. This film pushes every single last one of my buttons for the near-unendurable 106 minutes that it runs for. It got on my nerves from the very first scene and didn’t let up until the end credits began rolling. What writer Jesse Andrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon have done with this film is create a monument to selfish self-indulgent teenagers, a film that completely lacks the self-awareness required to realise that its singular focus and forced quirkiness is anything but endearing.
In simple terms: Me and Earl is the film version of its lead character, Greg (Thomas Mann). Greg is the single most irritating lead character that I have seen in a film in absolutely ages. Greg is a high school Senior who prides himself on the fact that he has made it through High School without any attachments or friends, save for Earl (Ronald Cyler II) and even then he can only come to call him his “co-worker”. He is very much self-loathing, especially with regards to how he looks, which should make him a flawed, rootable character, but that self-loathing frequently manifests as outright disdain for everyone and everything else which makes him maddening to have to know for even 2 minutes – made worse by the fact that his self-loathing, a very real problem that I have suffered in the past, is treated as nothing more than a character quirk.
Greg is a narcissistic, self-involved, selfish, entitled turd-bag that I found impossible to stomach the presence of before the film’s title card drops. That, however, wouldn’t be such a problem if the film wasn’t specifically from his point-of-view, didn’t sympathise with his point-of-view, and didn’t treat everything the same way that he does. But it does. It so very much does. Greg’s refusal to grow is reflected by making everybody else’s nagging at him to grow and better himself as a human being – including his mother (Connie Britton) – as just that: nagging. Endless insipid nagging that is physically painful to have to sit through, because the film is forcing you to see it from Greg’s perspective.
For example, throughout the film, Greg is constantly being pushed by a hot girl (Katherine C. Hughes), ostensibly a friend of Rachel (Olivia Cooke, the titular Dying Girl), to make a film for Rachel as a gift. Her every appearance in the film, and I do mean every appearance, is presaged by the same stop-motion animation of an elephant stomping on a mouse – because, you see, hot girls are like elephants in that they accidentally stamp all over the hearts of Nice Guys like Greg, which are the mice in this metaphor. She contributes nothing to the film besides pushing Greg to not be such a self-involved asshat, yet her every appearance is treated by Greg, and the film by extension, as her using him unwittingly for whatever reason because, you know, she’s daring to tell Greg to do something that doesn’t solely benefit him. The monster.
The world of Me and Earl revolves around Greg, despite the fact that the central lesson Greg has to learn is that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and that extends to the other two people in that title. Earl’s character is that he says “dem titties” every five minutes or so like clockwork. That’s it. The film could not give one single crap about what Earl has to say – the one scene where he does have an extended conversation with Rachel has their dialogue faded into the background whilst Greg sits all paranoid about the drug trip he may be on – unless it’s “dem titties” or one speech he gives to Greg about how much he sucks late in the film, nor does it care about the differences in his and Greg’s social standings for anything other than hi-larious gags about how Earl’s older brother speaks like a 90s gangster stereotype. Earl exists solely for the development of Greg and easy black stereotype gags. That’s it.
But that is nothing compared to Rachel. Her character, her entire character and personality traits and use to the story, is that she has cancer. That is it. Her entire character in this movie is to have cancer and push Greg to become a better person. The film is not interested in cancer, or the effects of cancer on her, or even the effects of cancer on anyone except Greg. Cancer is literally just a storytelling device to further Greg’s development and provide some cynical final-third waterworks because only monsters don’t cry at people dying of cancer, right?
That is what incenses me. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is not in the slightest bit sincere about anything. It’s so cynically designed to be a Quirky Indie Darling that not a single thing registers as genuine. All of those deliberately off-kilter shots, awkward focussing, one-take scenes that call attention to how they’re one-take, the constant title-cards, the random stop-motion cutaways, everybody having some kind of “quirk”… This is all what everybody likes to accuse Wes Anderson films of being, but they’re forgetting that Wes Anderson films are filled with soul. When he drops all of these tropes and tricks, he does so because he believes in them. He’s being genuine, he’s being honest.
Me and Earl does not have one genuine bone in its goddamn body. It has no soul because it has zero empathy for anybody but Greg who, as we have already established, has no empathy for anybody but himself. Rachel gets one monologue in the middle of the film, just the one, about how cancer is treating her but it is immediately turned back onto Greg and how Greg feels instead. The film so totally embodies Greg that it has absolutely no time for anybody or anything that doesn’t relate to him. The Fault in Our Goddamn Stars is dishonest and disingenuous about a lot of things – and I say that as somebody who likes Fault in Our Stars, for the record – but it is incredibly and movingly honest about the effects that cancer has on those who have it and those who have to deal with those who have it. This piece of festering horse shit could not give one single damn about anything other than Greg finding himself, with cancer just so being that catalyst.
So that leaves the film an excess in self-consciously smug “quirk” with nothing going on underneath it. Nothing resonates with any positive impact, much actively grates, the film’s idea of High School would have Mean Girls – whose entire satire depends upon it making High School look like a Savannah – go “Look, this is utterly ridiculous and way too far.” Every last one of its characters vessels for Greg’s development are unbearable with all of their actors playing that “quirk” up to a hilt in a manner that makes each of them utterly dreadful.
But there is one specific moment that breaks Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. One specific moment that, even if I were enjoying it, causes the film to sail right past the point of no return. One moment that caused me to shout out a reflexive, bile-filled “FUCK YOU!” in a mostly empty cinema filled with people who were enjoying the film that I loathe so thoroughly. Unfortunately, said moment is a major spoiler. Therefore, if you don’t want to have a pivotal moment of this movie spoilt for you, SKIP THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS.
Throughout the film, Greg’s pretentious and mesmerically dull narration repeatedly assures the viewer that Rachel makes it out of the film alive. Don’t worry if things look bad now, because she will get better, folks! Now, ignoring the fact that absolutely nobody believes that this will really happen, this promises some sort of intrigue. After all, the entire plot is set up to ensure that Rachel will die, that’s how these stories go, so a promise that Rachel will in fact make it out alive adds an interesting X-factor. Plus, this is being told via narration of the lead character looking back on these events – which then also leads to the issue of Greg clearly not having learned a goddamn thing despite the entire story, but there we go – so we are supposed to trust this information.
Then, about 75 minutes into the film, Rachel dies. The narration explains this away by going, “Oh, well, sorry I guess. In my defence, I really thought she was going to make it at the time.”
In the last 5 years that I have spent seriously going to and examining movies, that moment is quite possibly the single most bullshit thing I have ever seen in a cinema. It infuriated me because the film straight up lied in order to generate artificial emotion from an outcome we already knew was coming. Although the rest of the movie had given me plenty already, that moment was the biggest piece of evidence that the film did not give a single shit about Rachel or cancer for anything other than Greg’s personal self-improvement and a cynically-constructed tear-jerking finale.
And that offends me. It infuriates me, it angers me, it fills me with bile, but it most importantly offends me on every possible level there is for me to be offended on. I watched a film that cynically did not give one single iota of a fuck about anything other than its own self-involved protagonist and its smug self, yet still demanded that I care anyway. There is not one moment of this film that is genuine, not one moment that shows any affection to any of its non-Greg characters, yet has the temerity to pretend like it does by playing the cancer card in the most blatantly disinterested and cynical manner possible.
I hate this movie. I HATE this movie in ways that I can’t remember feeling before and which honestly scare me. If I see Thomas Mann on-screen again, I am breaking into the projection booth and punching the projectionist in the face. I want to take a machete to every single one of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s insipid stop-motion cutaway figurines. I want to go straight to Fox Searchlight and Indian Paintbrush’s offices and personally demand a full refund of my money and my time. I want to set both of its Sundance awards on fire with a flamethrower. I want to acquire every possible copy of this film in existence, take them to an abandoned pit in the middle of nowhere, crush them repeatedly with a steamroller, bulldoze the remains into the pit, and pave over said pit with ultra-unbreakable cement to make absolutely certain that it can never again be seen by anybody.
Let me state this one last time, so that there is no miscommunication here: I didn’t like it.
Callie Petch gets it done for the world’s pleasure.