It is very rare that I ever read a book, then watch its film adaptation and end up preferring the movie version. In the case of Me and Earl and The Dying Girl that is exactly what happened. Now if you look back on this blog back 5 months ago, you’ll see I wrote a review on the book by Jesse Andrews (his debut novel), one that was full of love and admiration for the novel. That love and admiration remains the same, it is still one of my all time favourite YA novels but unexpectedly the movie adaptation held a certain personality that just about tipped it.
The fact that the screenplay for the movie was also written by Jesse Andrews may account for its beautiful accuracy to the book and with such an inherent accuracy some might say it’s difficult to say either is different enough to prefer one over the other. I disagree. With books, we obviously create our own understanding of the characters and situations, and the novel allowed us to create such a vividly visual idea of the touching and tragic narrative. Yet there are some things that even our imagination struggles to get the most out of. The film, while keeping true enough to its origins, added in a personality, and elements that only film could provide, that made some scenes that little more effective.
First of all I want to touch on the casting. Casting is everything, especially in an adaptation. With adaptations, fans of the book are always looking for faults in the follow-up-movie, and they all have an idea of what the characters should look like, sound like, act like etc and the movie hits on the head. Olivia Cooke, one of my favourite current actresses, who some may know as Emma Decody from Bates Motel, is the perfect choice for Rachel Kushner. There is something in her performance that is so beautifully natural and believable that separates her from any other character she plays and separates her from being anything other than Rachel Kushner. Looking through articles and interviews on the movie you’ll see she even shaved her head for the role, professing that the emotions and worries that she looked ugly bald (which btw I disagree with heavily) meant that she understood how Rachel would feel. Some actors, and even audiences may see it as a necessary action, but whichever way you look at it, it is a dedication that lends even more truth to the film.
Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler playing Greg and Earl have such an interesting and fascinating connection on screen that makes us not just understand how long they’ve been friends (or ‘co-workers) but also the complexity that comes with that. Thomas Mann plays Greg with a level of nonchalance that makes us feel somewhat frustrated towards him, but with a certain je ne sais quoi that means we understand and sympathise with him. Similarly RJ Cyler is a perfect mixture of complexity, and undeniable articulate wisdom, all of which when played alongside each cast member creates a fantastic mix of cast.
Now aside from casting, there is one incredibly important element, that for me, makes the film so much more emotionally effective than the book (at certain points). The sound… or lack of it in certain moments. The cinematography, granted, also lends itself to the beauty and the uniqueness of the film, with its far from normal mixture of handheld, static, indescribable-movement-shots but the sound is indispensable. I say this because with the book, we can create our own shots in many ways, and we can create our own little elements, and maybe even our casting but the sound is different. Again, I admit, we can imagine sound in our minds, but the way they use lack of sound and then music is so creative and conservative. It is very easy, when editing, to put music everywhere, to cut when things are silent for too long, to be impatient in general with sound. Yet there are silences that seem to go on forever, and the little bits of foley in the background heighten silence, making the scenes so realistic and palpable. Not to mention the soundtrack is tremendously well chosen and placed. So much of the soundtrack relies on instrumentals, many movies focus on lyrics, and the way it plays into, but the soundtrack for this movie is so precise. There is a moment in the last scene, where every single note of the bass is effective in one way or another like an arrow to the heart.
Basically, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl as a concept, both written in novel form, and presented in cinematic form is remarkable. Both versions hold a place in my heart, and both create a terrifically in depth universe that everyone should be a part of. Those who like more control over the characters and the events may prefer the book, but either way the movie is a must watch, one that is not just watched, but felt. A truly overwhelming experience.