It’s rare that a peer guides an adolescent into the afterlife, but such is the premise of the affable, often funny and deeply moving Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and written by Jesse Andrews who adapted his own novel, the movie evokes archetypal Mercury. The winged messenger, doing the bidding of the gods, scuttles between Olympus and the Underworld, delivering the dead to the boatman who ferries those souls to Hades.
Like Mercury, awkward, quirky high school senior Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) gets similar non-negotiable marching orders. In his case, they’re from his mother (Connie Britton), who insists her son befriend a fellow student, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), newly diagnosed with leukemia. Mom’ heart’s in the right place: “You have been given a real opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” she says.
Greg, however, is an unlikely candidate to embrace the job of death doula.
His main secondary-school goal has been to remain socially invisible, even going so far as to take lunch-period refuge – along with childhood buddy Earl (RJ Cyler) – in the office of McCarthy (Jon Bernthal), an equally off-beat yet sensitive history teacher whose motto is “Respect the research.”
Eschewing community, both Greg and Earl indulge their foreign film-watching fetish – often with Greg’s similarly idiosyncratic, sociology-professor dad (Nick Offerman) – and take it to the next level by creating and acting in short, droll cinematic makeovers of classic films with punny titles, such as 2:48 PM Cowboy and Senior Citizen Kane.
When Greg visits Rachel, he’s upfront about his mother’s role in the maneuver and, over the next few months, does countdowns of what he calls the “doomed friendship.” Their increasing bond of trust is critical in the face of Rachel’s setbacks – “I thought it would be easier,” she says of the disease that’s quickly squeezing the life out of her. And Greg’s committed involvement in Rachel’s well-being – through both Neptunian sacrifice and artistic cinematic expression – results in his ignoring his academic work. An affecting, heart-to-heart conversation between Greg and McCarthy foreshadows the outcome.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a sober, clear-eyed take on two adolescents’ shared values, reciprocity of feelings and, above all, gratitude for the presence of each other in their lives. In other words, it’s a Venusian love story. Adult audiences are advised to take notes.
Astrology Archetype: ☿ ♀ ♆ (Mercury, Venus, Neptune)