These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.
The first time I saw this movie’s trailer, I remember getting pretty curious about it. Then early reviews started cropping up and heard nothing but good to great things about it. Naturally, this made me pretty hyped. Fun story though, the movie came out last week, but the Sherman Oaks Arclight wasn’t playing the movie yet thanks to the gargantuan box office haul and popularity of JURASSIC WORLD, so I had to wait a week before Sherman Oaks released it. I suppose I could have driven to Hollywood to see this movie, but… no, I’m not driving that far for a non-blockbuster. Sorry, no matter how good it is, not worth it. But I digress, it’s out, I’ve seen it, and I have stuff to say.
Starring: Thomas Mann (KONG: SKULL ISLAND , HANSEL & GRETEL , PROJECT X , and upcoming films BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER  and THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS ), Olivia Cooke (OUIJA , and upcoming films THOROUGHBREDS  and READY PLAYER ONE ), and RJ Cyler (WAR MACHINE , POWER RANGERS , and upcoming films WHITE BOY RICK  and SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER )
Support: Nick Offerman (THE HERO , SIN CITY , TV show PARKS AND REC [2009 – 2015], and upcoming films NOSTALGIA  and WHITE FANG ), Connie Britton (PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN , BEATRIZ AT DINNER , THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU , and upcoming films MUSTANG  and THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS), Molly Shannon (THE LITTLE HOURS , HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA , SERENDIPITY , and upcoming films HALF MAGIC  and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION ), and Jon Bernthal (WIND RIVER , FURY , TV show THE PUNISHER [2017 – ongoing], and upcoming films FIRST MAN  and THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON )
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (THE CURRENT WAR , TV shows: 12 episodes of AMERICAN HORROR STORY [2011 – ongoing], and 1 episode of THE CARRIE DIARIES ). Writer: Jesse Andrews (screenwriting debut, and the upcoming EVERY DAY ). Composer: Nico Muhly (THE READER ). Cinematographer: Chung-hoon Chung (IT , THE HANDMAIDEN , and OLDBOY ). Editor: David Trachtenberg (THE CURRENT WAR and CASA DE MI PADRE )
Story on top (SPOILERS), review below.
The story follows, and is narrated by, Greg (Thomas Mann). He’s a not-too-popular and socially awkward high school senior who enjoys making parody films with his “co-worker” best friend Earl (RJ Cyler) based around movies that the two of them enjoy. Greg has no problem with being a nobody and highly prefers it that way. But one day, Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) delivers some troubling news that a classmate of his, whom he also once knew as a kid, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), has been diagnosed with leukemia. Despite neither of the two have ever really talked before, Greg’s mom insists that Greg do something nice for Rachel, even though neither of them really care for each other’s company. Of course, that turns around once Greg’s quirky personality charms Rachel and the two of them decide that hanging out isn’t so bad. Over time Greg finally introduces her to Earl and this, of course, gets her hooked onto the many bad movies they’ve made together. This also leads to Greg’s hot friend Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) to convince him and Earl to make a film for Rachel. Though Greg isn’t too sold on the idea, he eventually caves and tries very hard with Earl to make something for Rachel. While Greg and Rachel don’t strike up a romantic relationship, he clearly distances himself from his schoolwork in favor of caring for her and doing the movie for her, whether or not it was a conscious decision. Unfortunately, despite getting chemotherapy, Rachel isn’t getting better and tells Greg that she wants to stop. This leads to an incredibly heated argument that results in Greg giving up on Rachel and leaving her, in the process ending his friendship with Earl, blaming him for the events that lead up to this point. To make matters even worse, the college that once accepted Greg sends a letter telling him that he is no longer accepted due to his failing academic performances. Getting more and more frustrated with his life, and getting into a sort-of fight in school, bailed out by Earl (somewhat rekindling their friendship), Madison asks Greg to the upcoming prom, knowing that Greg tried his hardest with Rachel and wants to have a good time with him. He reluctantly accepts. He also finds out from Madison that Rachel was back in the hospital, dying, and instead of picking up Madison, he goes to visit Rachel in his tuxedo and shows her the final cut of the film he’d been making for her… which moves her to tears. However, barely finished, Rachel slips into a coma and passes away later on. Greg eventually finds a letter addressed to him from Rachel and reveals that she sent a letter to the college Greg applied for in an attempt to explain Greg’s failing grades. Greg once more tries to apply to the college with a book he wrote based on his time with Rachel and a copy of the movie he made for her.
I’m going to try my very hardest to properly explain what I felt about this movie because… well, I wasn’t too sure how I felt. We have a beautiful young girl dying… and is being charmed by a charming and quirky young man, whose relationship is reluctant at first, but eventually the two wind up caring a great deal for each other by doing grand gestures for each other. Jeez, I can’t help but feel like this sounds really familiar… almost like they did another movie exactly like this… but for the life of me I can’t figure it out… aww man this is going to drive me nuts…
Oh, no matter, I’m sure it’ll come to me in time. *deeply rooted SARCASM people!!!*
Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, the more I was watching DYING GIRL, the more comparisons I was drawing between this and FAULT. But I’m not one to say that a movie is bad just because it’s incredibly similar to another story. Despite the many parallels, DYING GIRL does do a few things differently from FAULT that I found worked better, and a few things that FAULT did better.
One little difference between the two movies is that in FAULT, both the leads were suffering from cancer. In this, only Rachel is and Greg is just a regular guy trying to make her feel better. It’s hard to say which relationship is more compelling. I am going to compare the lead characters Greg and Rachel with FAULT’s Hazel and Gus. Hazel and Gus are more interestingly written characters. They are both quirky in their own right, both have an attitude when the situation calls for it. I guess, summed up, their relationship is bigger. They go to Europe to meet their favorite author and visit the house that Anne Frank hid in. Whereas in DYING GIRL, Greg and Rachel’s relationship seems just a little more grounded. They don’t visit exotic, foreign locations in DYING GIRL. It’s clear that both Hazel and Gus are more interesting characters than Greg and Rachel, but that might just be because Hazel and Gus have bigger personalities. Greg and Rachel are more low-key… they feel like people, rather than characters, know what I mean? In retrospect, it might just be personal preference in which characters you like more. Although there’s an argument to be said that Greg is too much of a downer and no one likes a depressed character who spends the entire movie complaining rather than being determined and push on through even though the odds are stacked against him, which Gus doesn’t do. Both relationships also feel a little forced for no reason. Gus starts hitting on Hazel because… she’s hot. I mean, that’s the basis for all relationships, but jeez, they just bumped into each other in the hallway. How does that leave an everlasting impression that leads immediately into a relationship with no build-up? DYING GIRL is hardly different. Greg and Rachel knew each other as children, and weren’t ever really friends. So why is the mom so damn insistent on Greg doing something nice for Rachel? Is she going to have him befriend the next dying person? Is this something that she wants him to do for everyone with cancer? What makes Rachel truly stand out? But again, despite the questionable set-up, the relationship build-up does feel organic.
What I really enjoyed about DYING GIRL is that Greg and Rachel do not go into a romantic involvement. Why does everyone in movies who is dying of cancer HAVE to fall in love before they die? Why can’t they just ever be friends? DYING GIRL breaks that mold and keeps Greg and Rachel platonic… though I guess the mold isn’t COMPLETELY broken as he does make references to possibly having feelings for Rachel… and with lines like, “if this were a sappy romance movie, we’d be making out furiously on the bed… but this isn’t a sappy romance movie,” it’s painfully clear DYING GIRL is shamefully drawing its own comparisons to FAULT, which is kind of tacky in films that aren’t parodies. Not the worst of movie-sins, I guess, but still… keep the focus on your own movie. The audience is already making their own tally-charts on the similarities between you two. But bottom line, I do like how Greg and Rachel don’t end up together, as that should not have been the point of their relationship.
Oh my god, I’m not going to lie, I lost my shit when I realized that Greg’s dad was played by none other than Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerman. Having just jumped onto the TV show PARKS AND RECREATION band wagon, and the overwhelming love that the fanbase has for the character Ron Swanson, Nick Offerman does provide a level of quirkiness to DYING GIRL when he’s on camera. Criminally under-used, but for the sake of the story losing focus, it’s for the best.
And dear god, why is Earl in the title if he’s going to barely be in the movie. Look, I get it, Earl is Greg’s best friend and he does serve a purpose in the story, but his purpose feels like it’s to move the story along, rather than develop him as a character all his own. I know the primary focus is on Greg and Rachel, but with a title like ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, Earl is supposed to have as much screen time as either Greg and Rachel, which he clearly doesn’t. I guess I don’t particularly appreciate how they used an otherwise great character who isn’t afraid to punch his own best friend when he’s acting like a jack-ass. I wish the story could have found a way to develop him more and give him a better role other than “dude who gets the plot moving.”
Maybe this is more of an issue at the beginning of the movie, but I also found the humor to be inappropriate at times, insensitive even. I mean, wanting a light-hearted story about a person with a fatal sickness is great and encouraged, but maybe these stories need to try harder to avoid cracking jokes at the expense of the subject matter. Not everyone with a sickness like this is going to take it as a joke as these stories constantly portray. Nothing wrong with weaving humor into the mix, but the story should always be aware of what it’s saying. This isn’t an issue throughout the movie, obviously, as I said, I just noticed it in the beginning, but it does kind of leave a bad taste in my mouth.
There is one thing that I absolutely hated that this movie did. Twice, Greg narrates that Rachel would not die by the end of the movie. While I felt like this could have been a spoiler of sorts, it basically revealed that the point of the story isn’t that Rachel would die, but the point is how she lived. I mean, why can’t we ever have characters recover from cancer? Wouldn’t that be a more hopeful message out there for people who have similar conditions? Instead of, “it’s my life and I’ll die if I want to,” why not show that the struggling isn’t in vain and that if you soldier on through it, you can beat the cancer? Look, I get life doesn’t always work out that way, but I feel like cancer-survival needs a victory in cinema. So if you’re going to hype up that this girl isn’t going to die, then commit to it and don’t lie to me at the end. Dear lord, that’s just insulting. Someone with cancer could have been sitting in the audience looking for a reason why to push forward with their treatment, building up to a happy ending, all to be depressingly taken down. Rachel’s death in the end wasn’t sad. It was infuriating.
When all is said and done, this movie feels more down-to-earth than FAULT IN OUR STARS did, and feels like a real story following real people. But for all its good intentions, the things that I didn’t like about it prevent me from wanting this movie to do well. It’s not terrible, it’s not even bad, but I feel like this movie was just trying to be a better FAULT. In some ways it is, but what brings it down is that it knows it wants to be and misses out on having its own voice.
My honest rating for ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL: a weak 3/5
To be honest, after re-reading my own review about the movie, I don’t think “a weak 3/5” sounds very accurate. Sure, I might have to re-watch the film in order to really see how it holds up, but this sounds more like a “strong 3/5” movie.