DIRECTOR: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
MPAA RATING: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
RUNTIME: 1 hour, 45 minutes
This was some trash... In my review of the book, I talked about what a stereotypical character Earl (portrayed by R.J. Cyler) was, but noted the author's attempt to humanize Earl and give him some redeeming qualities...this movie took all of that out, doubled down on stereotypes that wasn't even in the book, and basically erased Earl and whatever his character was worth in the book.
Now...I'll get back to all of the offensiveness after I talk about the style of the movie, the writing, whether or not is was true to the book, and all of that good stuff.
Originality This film was not particularly original. The style of the movie was very similar to Juno and Napoleon Dynamite - but not as funny, not as charming, and not as memorable. I did appreciate that this wasn't a love story like Fault in Our Stars, but showed a semi-realistic friendship between a boy and a girl. Greg (portrayed by Thomas Mann) is clearly not trying to jump on Rachel's (portrayed by Olivia Cooke) bones in the book, and the movie respects that. The subtitles of different scenes in the movie were trite, and at one point misleads the viewer into thinking there's an alternate ending...um...no....the ending is maintained the same way as in the book. What was not original was the abundance of stereotypes...that as truly disappointing, especially since there are so little African American teen movies, African American YA books that are made into movies, or teen movies depicting positive images of African American teens - this was a huge let down.
Creativity The most creative parts of the story were of the movies made by Greg and Earl. The director got to play with animation, color, and random themes. It was interesting to watch these films that got so much attention in the book. They weren't Disney animations....and they weren't supposed to be. They looked like amateur films made by high school kids who have a lot of time on their hands, but it was interesting the way they showed the two young men working on their video projects, and making stop motion animation on their mobile phones.
Plot This isn't a story with a lot of action and movement of story. Greg finds out that his friend is sick. His mom implores him to visit the girl. He visits her - sometimes with a friend. His friend reveals their secret movie-making hobby. They make a movie for her. The girl dies. That's pretty much the story. Some of the minor incidents that took place in the movie were re-worked, in ways that seemed to me to have no greater purpose than to perpetuate racial stereotypes...Earl punches Greg in the stomach at the epic part of the story where Greg confronts Earl about revealing their movie to Rachel, and Earl gives Greg a dose of reality by telling him that, "no one gives a shit about you." Though Earl does curse Greg out, and it's intense and makes Greg cry, Earl never hits him in the book. There's also a weird part of the story where Earl beats up "Ill Phil", a character who wasn't in the book....I'll wait until I get to the character portion to discuss Ill Phil more...but he wasn't in the book, and neither was the part about Earl beating him up. Greg does get beat up by Earl's brother - who breaks Greg's arm and lands Greg in the hospital. This was removed.
Pacing The pacing of the movie was incredibly slow. I fell asleep twice, and had to re-watch the movie as it was slow and boring. Whole portions of the movie was devoted to snipets of Greg visiting Rachel. This movie probably could have been condensed into a 25 minute after school special.
Structure This was a fairly linear structure of story, plot, and characterization. There were no flashbacks, or alternating points of view. In an effort to create more of a story line, parts of the story were embellished or fabricated. There was a scene where Greg and Earl get high off cookies Earl stole (totally not in the book) from Ill Phil, and then Greg lies to Rachel and tells her it was because they'd gone to the Jamaican embassy and gotten stuck in an elevator with a Rastafarian who had hot-boxed the elevator. What. The. Fuck. Completely random, not in the book - didn't add anything to the structure of the story line. Worthless.
Greg, played by Thomas Mann, is a kind of floppy awkward cornball. Olivia Cooke is the sad witty dying girl, and Earl played the role of Sambo....in almost every role he was eating - or using people for food. In random conversations he would just blurt out the word "titties"...which became a running joke that every black male character in the film used. The part where Earl calls the hospital and checks for visiting times, before organizing a trip to the hospital to visit Rachel was left out. The parts where Earl visits Rachel, and also tries to befriend are not only left out, but then Greg accuses Earl of only trying to appear to be a better friend than him - an opposite conclusion Greg comes to in the book. A limousine driver, Earl's brother, all hyper-sexualize white women, and blurt out "titties" or some overtly sexual comment whenever a young white woman appears in the same scene with them. Ill Phil, who is a young white male with cornrows, baggy clothes, and constantly rapping - engages in similar behavior as the black males - as Ill Phil is acting in ways that are stereotypically black. The casting of Molly Shannon as Rachel's mom was a good one. I felt she did the role justice, and remained true to the character of Rachel's mother in the book. Greg parents, portrayed by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton, also did a solid job of playing Greg's parents. R.J. Tyler wasn't bad in his performance - it's just that what was done to his character was inherently bad...
Cinematography The production quality was okay. Nothing jumped out about the quality of the film was particularly bad.
Direction Poor. The director should have had more integrity in how he chose to re-create this book.
Entertainment Value I didn't find this movie fun, engaging, thought-provoking, humorous, enlightening....it was a dull racist movie, and I'm sorry I can't get my hour ad 45 minutes back.
Dialogue The dialogue of the movie was good in parts, and failed totally in others... I've already ranted about Earl's lines, and the line of every black male. I won't rant again about it here.
Overall Quality of Production or Script Overall...this movie sucked. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone. What's probably most troubling, is that this movie won awards! This book won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. This is very disturbing to me. Says a lot about what people think about black males that this was found to not only be funny, but to be seen as exemplary. Sickening.