I believe Sundance winning film for the “Grand Jury Prize” and the “Audience Award” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Gomez – Rejon, 2015) is excellently written and very well directed. The title gives away main characters and specific information about one of them, but their lines and the way they are written will make you unable to move away from screen even the main protagonist spoils the whole film by telling us at the very beginning, that he made a movie so bad that it literally killed someone.
Apart from the traditional three – act structure, we are able to simplify the narration of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl even more, by dividing film into its primary and secondary structure. The primary structure is basically the story happening from a character’s perspective. We see Rachel the way that Greg sees Rachel, as half-formed and idealized as that may be. The secondary structure is the story a viewer sees. In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Andrews makes that story the same as Greg’s. Thus, the development of Greg and his perspective is more effective. In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl secondary structure exists to amplify the Primary Structure which makes the whole film experience even more intense. And because of that close connection to the main character, scene by scene, we are able to break down the walls that Greg has put up around his life and more we get to know Rachel, we realize what is really important the same way Greg does at the end.
The film is well written because of the first major incident in the film transpires Greg and his character. In ‘The part when I meet the dying girl’ the inciting incident of the film happens when Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) insists that Greg visits Rachel (Olivia Cook), a girl he barely knows who has just been diagnosed with leukaemia. It happens right after ‘The part where I begin senior high school’ when we first get to know characters and relationships between them by using flashbacks to Greg’s and Earl’s (RJ Cyler) childhoods. Earl is Greg’s only friend who he refers to more as a co-worker given that they make short films together. “Naw, we friends. He just hates callin anyone his friend. Dude’s got issues.“ I find the film very impressive because of how it pulls the viewer into Greg’s perspective from the very beginning, as narcissistic and self-involved high school student as it may be. “I’m not here because I pity you. I’m here because my mom is making me. My mom is going to turn my life into a living hell if I don’t hang out with you. Look, I understand that I’m not doing you a favor here. What I’m asking is for you to do me a favor.” At the end of act one, we are introduced to ‘The part where Rachel and I become actual friend or The point of no return’ when the main character himself is using foreshadowing to tell us that something in his life is going to change.
Although the film seems to focus on the friendship between Greg, Earl and Rachel, it is not. If Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was about Rachel or their relationship, end of act two would occur when she stops treatment. However, we are not quite sure what will happen to her yet, but instead, the real end of act two is Greg’s reaction when he discovers about Rachel’s decision to stop treatment and the impact on him. “I’m a terrible friend? I’m not giving up. I’m not ruining my friend’s life by giving up on the whole world.” We also hear Greg use word ‘friend’ for the first time, but after their fight, he starts to be miserable, unable to focus on films and eventually ??? admission rescinded due to significant change in his academic record.
The film lies to viewer. Everything about how this film is constructed to tell the viewer that Rachel is going to die. Greg repeatedly lies to us about the idea that he is not falling in love with her. He tells us this if that was a different kind of movie, they would fall in love and learn life lessons together. The lying works so well because Greg is lying to himself as well. His act of not telling the truth to himself reflects how afraid he is to get hurt. From the film’s earlier development of Greg’s perspective, and pulling the viewer into it, the film also gives the audience an implicit desire to see their relationship succeed. He keeps reassuring us that Rachel is not going to die the same way he keeps telling himself Rachel is not going to die. The effective use of unreliable narration allows this line to apply to the audience as much as to Greg himself. Even though he knew she was dying, Greg simply could not accept it, long after she had accepted it herself. There is a line just after Rachel passes away at the end “I know I said she didn’t die. I really believed she wouldn’t.”
After a lot of dialogue, the film has a very good and quiet ending. The first two parts of the film are full of lines and changes, but at the end, the script gets quieter as our main character does. “The part after all parts” when Rachel passes away includes only Greg’s monologue and Rachel’s letter to him. In the book, as Greg is talking about the film he made for Rachel, he says that what is so bad about the film is that even though it was made for Rachel, it actually ended up being not about Rachel at all. It ended up showing how little he actually knew about Rachel. It ended up being about him. Throughout the film, we see Greg changing by making himself vulnerable, finally paying attention to what is around him and leaving behind his initial teenage self absorption. Thanks to Andrews’ writing, the viewer has matured with Greg, and the emotional impact is visceral because of it. Greg grew thoughout the film, and despite that, he finds himself still distant from Rachel as he reflects on his film. In a wistful end, he notes “It was weird to be learning something new about her even she had died. Somehow, it was also reassuring, though.”