June 21, 2015

The Truth about Our Teen Boys

With the current news full of the story of yet another young man gone tragically wrong, it’s the perfect time for me to bring you a story about some really great young men. The guys that star in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are good examples of what I've found to be true and deeply good about the teenage guys I've met, and I've met a lot of them. I think it's time we all hear more about what's right about our young men and less about the few lost and angry guys who get so much media attention.

At the start of the movie, we meet Greg (played by Thomas Mann), a high school senior, shy, and full of the pretty standard young male insecurities. He manages to stay socially hidden in background at high school as a way of coping with the complicated worlds of relationships. He subtly moves between all the cliques, like the jocks, stoners, goths, and theatre geeks, being a dabbler but not a member of any. Mostly, he remains a loner. Mostly.

Greg does have one main dude in his life named Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he’s known since childhood. Earl is from the (stereotypical) other side of town and is really Greg’s only true friend. Sadly, Greg is so afraid of what it means to have a real friend, he refers to Earl as his “co-worker.” In addition to their history, the two pals share a common interest in odd European art films. They work together making terrible but really funny amateur movies.

Friendships are a complicated business for young guys Greg and Earl's age. Sitting with teen males in groups, I’ve heard many of them talk about having what’s up friends. Those are the guys they hang out with between classes, at lunch, and sometimes after school. However, few of them say they have any got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.

. . . few of them say they have any
got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.

The movie really gets started when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists that he check in on Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a distant acquaintance from school who has been diagnosed with leukemia. As his relationship with Rachel develops, a true friendship is born, and Greg begins to truly, but cautiously, care for her. You'll be able to pinpoint the moment in the film when Greg’s heart cracks open and he’s overwhelmed with the flood of feelings he has for Rachel he's been holding back.

As I've witnessed many times, when the I'm Okay Mask comes off, so many young men have amazing capacity to face the very hard parts of their lives, speak deep truths, and express big feelings. You’ll see a lot of that in this film. I’m here to tell you it’s not Hollywood, but a really honest depiction of what's alive behind teen male bravado.

There are tons of great laughs and sub-characters. Greg’s strange, sociology professor father (Nick Offerman), is a riot in weird clothing, odd behavior, and a love for exotic foods. In a non-funny way, it speaks to how so many young guys feel they come from embarrassing or sometimes shameful family situations.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so it has great credentials. But for me, so much of what I saw was just flat out true about my own adolescence, and true about the good young men who sit across from me in school circles.

This film is both very funny and sad at the same time, but the laughs outweigh the tears. The film is worth seeing if you want to touch the angst of your own teen history, increase your young male-literacy, and have your heart lightly squeezed.

Here’s a little taste:

If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

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