In early June, I got the chance to join my Social City Networking partner-in-crime Sara for an advanced viewing of Fox Searchlight’s Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. It was a film I was interested in seeing, especially in light of the overlaps in subject matter to the recent film (based on a best-selling YA novel) A Fault in Our Stars. Two teenagers enter into a friendship that grows into something more, both knowing full well that the girl is fighting a terminal illness.
I don’t want to concentrate on plot or give away what the movie is about. Instead, let me bestow upon you the negative-space of the movie, the impression with which I walked away. It’s not perfect, but what story is? When writing about high school, it’s hard (perhaps truly impossible) to intentionally regress to the perspective where you truly didn’t know any better. At that age, everything feels so absolute and true, your personal experience of a reality feels like the only reality. This film captures a lot of those painfully real truths about the high school experience—you sit in an unbearably awkward silence with the protagonist after he puts his foot in his mouth around a new group of people. Your heart warms as a forced and stiff friendship of obligation naturally melts into something more real. You feel a sharp jab of empathy as the mom lovingly guilt trips her son into doing something which is clearly at the bottom of his to-do list. These true, real moments are the stitching holding together the quilt of patchwork kookiness. A lot of the characters felt like a grab bag of quirks instead of real human beings, perfectly-fabricated versions of people which would sit well with what has become a very narrow focus of indie movie. (Though breaking the mold, huge shout out to Molly Shannon, killing it in the best cringe-worthy portrayal of a mom trying to play it cool with her daughter’s friends since Amy Poehler in Mean Girls.) The interpretation of high school cliques and cafeteria as battleground felt reductionist in a way that hurts my soul its so outplayed. It’s Juno reinterpreted as a Wes Anderson movie, which both works and it doesn’t. And that’s okay.
Because what it gets right is really, really important. It talks openly and honestly about an aspect of being a teenager which many high school movies fail to accomplish—the joys and repercussions of being truly vulnerable with another at an age where you aren’t even comfortable being yourself, a time when you’re not sure you would even want to be your own friend if given the chance. I don’t think I’m giving much away by saying that our brooding, self-hating protagonist starts the movie as an intentional loner, engaging with many people at school in the most minimal way possible as a strategy to fly under the radar. By the end, he’s given himself fully to someone else, put himself out there, and experienced the great joy of true human-to-human connection and terrible heartache. And that’s the beautiful thing about life, especially when you’re in high school—everything feels so intense and infinite in the moment that sometimes it’s hard to really cherish the good and easy to get overwhelmed by the bad. But feeling things deeply is much better than numbly stumbling through life afraid to feel anything at all. Too many films which address high school don’t go deep enough into these feelings of imposter syndrome, not fitting in, being terrified of being vulnerable with anyone for fear of them finding out that you don’t know who you are. High school can be very alienating because you fear you’re alone in feeling these things and while this film doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head, it certainly tries. In the end, that’s more than most can say.
Article first published on Social City Networking.