Hollywood at Home: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Hollywood at Home is a weekly column by filmmaker, writer, and critic Keith Hodder that highlights the variety of films and television programs that Netflix has to offer, along with recommendations of what to watch next and his opinions on the world of entertainment. Follow him @KeithHodder and feel free to suggest a film.

I avoided this film. Its title screams of eventual heartbreak.

Admittedly I’m not one for seeking catharsis in movies. I know many audiences out there do, which is why the books of Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Piccoult have been adapted to film, but it is something that I have no interest in pursuing.

I’ve never understood the practice of exploring further emotional pain in moments of sadness and depression. Surely the pain is enough without the magnification.

In an interview with Jeff Goldsmith, Woody Allen spoke to this effect, stating that there were movies that helped us escape the world, and movies that felt the world and the gamut of emotions that it offers.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl offers both.

It simultaneously combines deadpan humour with the plight that many face in their awkward teenage years. The film follows a young man who parodies arthouse film with his friend Earl as they befriend a girl at their school who has been diagnosed with cancer.

I know what you’re thinking; it sounds exactly like the sort of film that would have Zac Efron in the lead role.

What’s charming is that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sees the clichés in its plot and recognizes them, making fun of what previous films have guided you to expect and subverts it. This film is anything but a rom-com.

Most of the story is guided through the lead’s clever narration.

It’s a constant reminder of the point of view we’re seeing the film through and the mindset of its character.

Thomas Mann’s role is that of the introverted outsider. He isn’t a loner per say, as he has made a consistent effort to be familiar with everyone in the school, but is a character that would rather live within and without, simultaneously experiencing the high school life, but also getting exhausted by it.

At the end of the day it’s a film that feels anything but clichéd.

Pictured: The main cast of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Some of the most pleasurable sequences revealed the parodied films, which were often some of the most pretentious selections from the depths of the Criterion Collection.

In many instances it reminded me of the homemade film that played over the credits of J.J. Abram’s Super 8, which was a reminder of how many filmmakers began their careers.

But the lead character isn’t really a filmmaker. He simply tinkers with the art as a hobby and to distract himself from the emotions he feels, which makes it all the more difficult when he decides to make one for his dying friend.

He struggles, as now he is forced to confront the emotions that he has been hiding from. It’s a struggle that the film puts its viewers through, bringing us in on the comedy and getting its hooks in us with the sudden and emotional drama.

You both expect it and you don’t. After all, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does exactly what you don’t expect it to.

Which is why I couldn’t avoid this film. It does everything in its power to draw you in, warming your heart with its Meta and awkward charm. You’ll come in with expectations, promptly forget them, be reminded of them by the characters that call them out for their own amusement, and leave feeling something you would have never expected to feel.

If this was one of those populist movie reviews they’d call it an “emotional roller coaster,” but this is not one of those reviews, and I am not one of those reviewers.

If you want to laugh, you’ll laugh. If you’re hoping to cry, you may cry. I’m curious what Woody Allen would think of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

I feel as though it brings together the two kinds of films that are often separate and brings about an emotional escape.