Me And Earl And The Dying Girls is a small indie film released in 2015 that I was finally able to watch recently. I loved it. It was such a charming coming of age movie that took a funny, odd, and thoughtful look at mortality, self-esteem and growing up. The cast was fantastic and the plot was well-crafted. The highlight for me, of course, was RJ Cyler. In the movie, RJ plays Earl, a high school student who is best friends with the main character, Greg. They met as children, and despite growing up on “different sides of town”,they grew into lifelong friends and “co-workers”. Earl is one of those rare black characters that is a real three-dimensional human. It’s a bit frustrating because what we see is a black kid who grows up black, culturally. His brother is hood as fuck and owns a pit bull. Earl’s parents are never mentioned and his neighborhood is clearly poorer. Super stereotypical. Even more interesting is that Earl is exposed to different movies, foods, and experiences because of the white main character, Greg, and his white parents. There is no obvious cross-pollination between the two. Earl seems to have learned a bit from Greg and his white world, but Greg doesn’t seem to have absorbed anything from Earl. Very problematic because we know that isn’t how friendship works. Both partners typically pass cultural norms back and forth in a natural way. Earl has been exposed to white culture while Greg has not been exposed to Earl’s blackness. This is a huge problem generally. This idea that white people have all the culture and are just opening narrow-minded black folk’s minds to a whole new world. This seems like a bad thing I know…
What makes the character work though is the performance. RJ, as Earl, is a black kid living in a white reality. He’s so black. Black in a human way. He’s the only black character of significance in the movie, besides his brother, who’s hilarious, but a caricature. He has a southern accent, but it isn’t punched up. He’s constantly telling these white folks how white they are. He’s almost like Deon Richmond’s “Token Black Guy” in Not Another Teen Movie, but with actual depth. While watching, I saw a character who was actually trying to expose himself to different things culturally. He was constantly trying the weird food at Greg’s house. He genuinely loved the movies he was making with his white friend. I saw a black kid who was comfortable and content with his blackness and was willing to go out and explore more. In a brief clip, he’s talking directly to Rachel, the dying girl in the title, and he prefaces his blurb by talking about how annoying white women usually are. I’m not sure if all of this was intentional, and I haven’t read the book to cross reference, but RJ did a fantastic job creating a woke, funny, fully-fleshed out black character in the center of this very white, young adult, coming of age comedy/drama.
Check out the trailer below!