Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a story of surprising love. Not in the romantic sense, for once, but in that of true companionship and friendship born from the most unlikely of catalysts: social and parental obligation on the part of Greg and Rachel, as well as his relationship with his friend Earl (although Greg prefers the term ‘business partner’ as the totality of friendship scares him).
It is for this reason I believe that it ushers in a new genre: the friendcom. A friendcom is a friendship comedy, that varies from the goofiness of the buddy movie/stoner movie comedy genre and has a strong focus on the growth of friendship – just as a romcom chronicles the romantic journey of two or more focal characters.
Many films featuring teenagers focus on teen drama – this film however had a much more mature head, and while Greg did find Rachel’s friend Madison physically attractive, there wasn’t really much chemistry or development of the relationship between them. He attributed that to social protocol and had a very fixed way of looking at things, which as an aspie myself I do recognise as a thought pattern.
However, the main love story in this piece comes from Rachel attempting to teach Greg self-love, and the love Greg grows to have for Rachel (to the extent that he forgoes school work for a year to care for her). The reason that Greg’s emotional depth is limited isn’t really touched upon – aside from when Earl states he dislikes the totality of the term ‘friend’ – Greg merely attributes it to having an artsy Sociology professor for a father.
I believe Greg is really looking to rationalise and intellectualise his own emotional existence, which he also does throughout the film after Madison suggests he work on a film for Rachel. Rachel, a cancer patient, meanwhile hopes to provide Greg with emotional support – recognising that the social anxiety Greg suffers from is just as destructive as the physical illness ravaging her.
Some would see Greg as needing to suck it up, or push him to come out of his shell – which Earl alludes to in his tough love speech about it being unwise to isolate his only friend – however, Rachel clearly sees his anguish as something she can help him work through as a friend, just as Greg’s mother saw Rachel’s cancer as something that Greg could help her through – and the final scenes of the film confirm that.
Greg, as narrator, will repeatedly pause the dialogue in the middle of the scene where he or the viewer sees potential for romantic entanglement – thus breaking the fourth wall to mock the expectation that a friendship in a movie should lead to romance.
In a world in which the term ‘friendzone’ exists, to have a film where friendship is cherished for exactly what it is – even by someone for whom friendship is a scary, unusual and unnatural social construct – is an extraordinarily wonderful thing.
Throughout the film, Greg shows himself to be very rigid in his thinking – for him to not make a clear declaration either way as to whether he did have feelings for Rachel is in itself a strong declaration. It is a declaration that his friendship with Earl, and his unlikely – or as he titles it, ‘doomed’ – friendship with Rachel does not require a definition – it simply is, and for someone who struggled to previously allow himself to call his best friend a friend it’s a marked improvement.
Whether this film is teen drama, romcom, arthouse, friendcom or a combination of any of these things, one thing is for sure: it’s a superb celebration of friendship and the limits (and depths) of Platonic love.