Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews
2 out of 5 stars
Teen/YA lit adaptations can vary wildly, and I’ve experienced most of them in the last few years. Barnes & Noble forcibly introduced me to Twilight, which seems to be the first in a string of sometimes great, sometimes painful series and fiction being made into movies. It stalled the respectable careers of Kristen Stewart, an actress much overlooked until last year’s trio of successes (Still Alice, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Camp X-Ray) despite promising roles in Adventureland and Into the Wild, and Robert Pattinson, finally showing promise last year in Maps to the Stars and The Rover after starting off with Harry Potter stardom. Their overdramatic acting and overzealous blinking was driven by the trite source material of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire atrocity. That same year though, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s (my favorite YA author) book, was released, starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. This movie involved queer themes, realistic teen love and sex, and struggles that someone could actually relate to and respect.
Years down the line brought us some mediocre fair, like The Fault in Our Stars, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. It also brought us a lot of crap, like The Maze Runner, City of Bones, Divergent, and If I Stay. Then there were three fantastic presentation: The Hunger Games trilogy/quadrilogy, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Spectacular Now. The Hunger Games brought Jennifer Lawrence into super stardom, and the films are all quite good, especially the original, not holding back on gore and violence but maintaining the intensity from the book. Perks, one of my favorite books in high school, was adapted and directed by Stephen Chbosky, the original author of the book. Besides making the epistolary novel into a smooth flowing coming-of-age story, stars Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson were organic and comfortable in nuanced performances. Lerman made the pitious Charlie into a likable loner, Miller played the enigmatic, queer Patrick without playing stereotypically gay, and Emma Watson was beautiful and gently recovering as Sam. Finally, The Spectacular Now, also written by Neustadter and Weber, allowed Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley to be a sweet, mismatched couple trying to survive their situations and get out of high school. Everything in this underseen movie exceeded expectations.
Coming soon from the YA world is Sundance favorite Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and adapted by Jesse Andrews. The film open on June 12. M&E&tDG stars Thomas Mann as Greg Gaines, a loner who doesn’t try to blend in but tries to casually be friendly, but not friends, with everyone in his Pittsburgh high school. His closest thing to a friend is Earl, a foul mouthed, short guy who lives with his crazy, poor family, played by newcomer RJ Cyler. The duo’s sole activities together involved watching movies that no other teen in their school would stand, like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and making films that they find unwatchably bad. Despite his utter lack of interest in a social life, Greg’s overinvolved mother (Connie Britton) encourages (read, forces) him to befriend Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke, a girl from school and synagogue who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. The film also stars Nick Offerman, as Greg’s stoic Carnegie Mellon University professor father, and Molly Shannon, as Rachel’s mother. I look forward to Olivia Cooke’s portrayal, especially with her similar role and an ailing teen in A&E’s Bates Motel. Hopefully she can bring out the same struggle while keeping true to Rachel’s personality.
Recently, I finished the book, and I cannot say I’m terribly impressed. Where there were some parts that could make me laugh audiably, sometimes prompting concerned looks from nearby bus passengers, much of the book left me displeased with the amount of vomit and fart jokes. The characters were very hit and miss. Greg could be so obnoxious but deep and introspective at times. Earl is constantly angry and is limited until the end, an aspect due to Greg’s POV. Greg’s family was rather standard, except for the father’s role as a thinking man who could be lost for long periods staring at a wall and talking to the family’s cat Cat Stevens. Nick Offerman will control this role wonderfully, as his seven years as Ron Swanson have clearly shown. My favorite character was Rachel. She was not like the lead in The Fault in Our Stars, who was respectable but too lovey-dovey for me. Rachel could be stoic or laugh without reservation or could be angry, but she was never self-pitying; she left that to Greg. Her character appreciates the simpler things, like Daniel Craig’s Bond abs, and she likes the absurd, like Greg and Earl’s movies.
Despite the immaturity of certain portions, which I have to remember is a side effect of a teenaged audience, the book is surprisingly touching at times. Greg is completely stupid about emotions and tries to avoid them, so placing him in an awkward situation, like rekindling a friendship solely based on impending death, is bound to lead to him being the dick he comes off as. He’s confused, and his overly modest annoyances and stupid jokes make him seem like an overly sarcastic outcast like so many YA characters. He can break off self-aware notes such as:
“This book probably makes it seem like I hate myself and everything I do. But that’s not totally true. I mostly just hate every person I’ve ever been. I’m actually fine with myself right now.”
This can humanize Greg nicely, a much needed stance in a book I was not wild about. No matter how deep or shallow Greg can be, the book can feel disjointed, jumping quickly between scripted (literally) scenes, self-hating reviews of the Greg/Earl partnerships, and too many efforts to convince the reader it was a mistake to read this book. It was luckily a quick read, and the humor sometimes made the effort worth it.
The adaptation’s success is visible within this book, no matter how unimpressed I could be at times. The story is rather linear and provides enough engaging dialogue to begin the story. Greg and Earl’s film making misadventures should lead to very humorous scenes, particularly Cat-ablanca, the feline starring remake of the classic film. Not many stills or particular details have been released that I’ll allow myself to see. I’m hoping for great success when the movie lands this summer. I would give the book 2 out of 5 stars. I’m not huge into YA books, so my opinion would be to pick up the book only if you truly enjoy that type of story. If I hadn’t been planning to write about the adaptation, I would have quit the book before finishing it. Let’s look forward to a movie that is more respected.
On a side note, some other YA adaptations coming soon include John Green’s Paper Towns, another adaptation by Neustadter and Weber about 5 friends’ roadtrip to find a missing neighbor coming this July, and Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children comes out 2016. And of course there’s the Divergent and Maze Runner sequels, which I won’t bother talking about anymore.
Have you read the book?