Beyond a Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Thank you Facebook for showing me an event I actually needed to attend and actually ended up attending (because how often does “Going” really mean going?). And thanks to NOW magazine in Toronto for hosting this particular indie flick as their June Free Flick Monday.

04202015130400 I thought I was done with high school movies, television series, and everything related this year.

My roommates  are still very attached to this formative time period so a lot of what we watch together is set there. And though I enjoyed The Duff (especially after discovering it was on the Blacklist), it didn’t show me anything new. I have a few ideas of my own for a television series/web series based on my high school experience, but not even the idea is ready to be aired. Not to mention, growing up and out of the college years, I thought I’d feel further and further away from high school. Perhaps the Bowling for Soup song “High School Never Ends” isn’t quite false.

I will admit that half of the fun of watching Me and Earl and the Dying Girl wasn’t on screen.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been away from Toronto and solo adventures for the past few weeks, but people watching, wow. It’s been great in this city in general but who knew waiting in the darkened Royal auditorium would offer such prime examples. Hipsters berating each other for buying salty popcorn and putting dill pickle flavoring on it (eww!) instead of eating the healthy snacks they snuck into the theater– I loved eavesdropping on every word you practically yelled behind me.

As the movie progressed, the reactions of the two middle-aged girls in front of me drew my attention. Before the movie, they’d been a little giggly, but mostly too distracted taking it all in. After one girl’s mom had set them up in the two seats and left, I watched them turn around over and over to scan all the other adults gathered the room. They were so proud to be there “alone.” As the movie progressed, they started leaning on each others’ shoulders and then comforting each other as the movie became sad. They did remind me why the world continues to make movies about high school and those formative years; whether you’ve passed through them or stand at the threshold, watching them approach, those late teenage/high school experiences can form much of what we become. They’re crucibles for a lot of learning in a small contained space. They can be deeply emotional.

Though I left feeling light and inspired after observing all this, it does say “Dying Girl” in the title. It’s a cancer movie, but saying that it’s a more indie version of The Fault in Our Stars seems unfair.

Finding out in the credits that it is yet another YA novel adaptation almost made me angry.

Not that Jesse Andrews had done a bad job of writing the screenplay for his novel. No, because watching the film has driven me away from the novel entirely. I don’t want to consider what this looked like as prose; it made a really good movie. The main character Greg and his “co-worker” Earl make parodies of art house classic films within Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and they became a major part of the plot. The film fearlessly forced Greg and Rachel (the dying girl) to sit in almost silence in the climatic scene–which reminded me of the best live performances I’ve seen in the theatre. Number one advice from my playwriting mentor: One exit, one entrance, that’s all you get for the play. Make them sit in it.

These elements transformed this typical-ish high school coming of age, college admissions essay meta-device, death as a life lesson into an innovative independent film in its own right.

Marching in a parade last month. I thought I escaped those!

Marching in a parade last month. I thought I escaped those!

But almost as important for this reviewer, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl reminded me to get out of the house and take advantage of the opportunities I do have in this city. Sometimes, a free movie on a Monday afternoon will teach me lessons about the writing I want to do, feel I should always be composing. Sometimes, when I think I need to get further away from high school and other painful times of growth, I find returning does indeed lead to new patience and wisdom.

Gosh darn it, you can’t escape it, Maggie. Deep down, you’re still a band geek!

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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