(I chose to do the assignment on the scene in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at 21:06 – 24:05: Greg teaches Rachel how to end an annoying conversation, but due to YouTube’s incompetence, I could not find the exact scene. I have hyperlinked the movie though.)
I own the movie-poster version of the novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. My mom bought it for me way back in June 2015, probably because I did really well on a test. That was around the time where I was under a ridiculous amount of pressure I had taken on myself, and the consequences were fairly visible. In exchange for getting mostly A’s on that last report card and barely passing a piano exam, I had dark circles under my eyes, paler skin than usual, and a completely faked air of importance, because I was “busy”. I paid for that about a week later, with a mind-blowing headache as the result of side effects from a meningitis vaccination, a flu that was going around, and severe stress. It was a time in my life where I refused to sit down and relax, to calm myself, let alone sit down and read a novel. I had enough books I needed to read, anyway – no way was I going to read another YA novel about bad things happening to philosophical teens who “aren’t like everyone else” (see, also, and this thing). Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was not that kind of book – it was brutally honest, and the protagonist was a bit of a narcissist, not a hero by any means.
Once I finished the book, it went back on my shelf. It never became a favourite of mine, but I had always wanted to watch the movie. It had been a hit at Sundance, an indie film for the ages, and I’m a sucker for a bizarre film. Plus, for all I knew, it was one of those rare movies that was better than the book. So, about a week ago, upon finding myself some rare free time, I found the movie online (unfortunately, the film has been removed from online pirating websites – but you can still rent it here) and watched the whole thing, until the earliest hours of a Sunday. Sitting in bed in my pyjamas, the charger stretching across the bed to the nearest extension cord, I remembered how impactful and raw the story really is. It’s gritty: the humour can get dark or just plain silly, but then you feel bad for laughing.
It’s mostly about a teen, Greg, who attempts to befriend a long-time classmate, Rachel, upon the urging from his mother after Rachel is diagnosed with leukemia. Their relationship is cold and forced, akin to one of two children who are forced to play together while their parents are downstairs, sipping white wine and eating fancy cheeses. But the scene in question, the one that made me fall in love with this under-budgeted, indie film with stop motion-and-papier Mache scenes, sparks their profound friendship in the weirdest of ways. Greg teaches Rachel how to get out of annoying conversations by faking a seizure, and when Rachel refuses to “practice”, he fakes being dead. He is then scolded by a poster of Hugh Jackman (the funniest monologue in the whole movie, if you ask me), and when Greg starts to apologize for telling the Dying Girl to pretend to die, she pretends to have a seizure. Greg exclaims “Yes! Exactly like that!” and they laugh. End of scene, but the beginning of my obsession with the film.
I love the scene so much because it’s a beginning, the start of something brilliant an eighth of the way in. It shows how Rachel is a character outside of Greg’s view. Prior to this scene, we found her frigid, sarcastic, and unwilling to open up to Greg’s terrible attempts at friendship. We had known her as the product of high school and cancer, but this scene was pivotal in her development to the audience. After this scene, a climax of sorts, Rachel becomes real. We grow to love her as a character, her relationships with Greg and Earl, and that’s what makes the scenes of her treatment so heartbreaking. It also resonates with me, in deeply personal ways that I have tried to explain before. It’s clearly the beginning of a friendship – heck, it directly precedes the screen-card “The Part Where Rachel and I Actually Become Friends” – but it was hard won. It took Greg this long to gain Rachel’s trust, and even if she would say otherwise, Rachel secretly wanted to open up to Greg. However, the scene is short. They share laughter and pure bliss in a single moment, and from then on, their friendship is relatively solid. It shows how hard it takes to get to the tipping point of a relationship, but it’s so easy to go over the edge and care for a person with every ounce of your heart. And it’s not a romantic relationship, which is so refreshing to say in a movie about teenagers. Greg outright denies any sexual tension between them, and Rachel is too proud to fall for her (possibly) best friend.
I think the reason I love Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so much is because it accurately depicts what it’s like to be a teenager, and I encountered the story for the first time at a very stressful point in my life. I later watched the movie during a period where I was still struggling through my identity as a high-schooler. I admit, I still have fears about growing up and taking on more responsibility, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl reminded me that, no matter how difficult or crappy life gets, there’s always friends, people who care about you, and good times. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has also influenced the type of stories I write and it nurtured my love for filmmaking, which laid dormant for so many years. Maybe it’s the ~inspiration~ that comes after watching a film centered around a certain activity that almost always flickers out after a couple weeks, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has become very influential in my life as a ninth-grader, simply because it accurately describes what it’s like to be a teenager in the 21st century. It’s probably one of my favourite books, and I think if I were to read the novel again, it would become a favourite story of mine. Nonetheless, I will try to remember to stay calm when times get tough, don’t eat weird soup, and if I’m feeling spectacularly awkward, fake going into a seizure. Or making a stupid joke. Apparently that works.