There is a beautiful “Jewish moment” in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” after Rachel Kushner (played by Olivia Cooke), the Jewish character, dies. People are “sitting Shiva” at her mother’s house after her funeral, and the scene starts off with a disembodied female voice chanting a perfectly accented Kaddish (mourner’s prayer). You never see who chants it, and there is no explanation as to what it is or why, for the uninitiated. It’s subtle, understated and effective, at least for those of us, the relatively small minority, who do understand the prayer.
This moment reflects the sort of care that “Me and Earl and Dying Girl” takes – mostly – with its story and its characters. The Jewish stuff – such as it is – is handled with sensitivity and discretion. But not all of the film has that approach. In particular, as Richard Brody (writing for The New Yorker on 12 June 2015) and others point out, the character of Earl is badly written and badly placed in the story.
Perhaps I should not be so complimentary about Jewishness and this film. Although I have not (yet) read the acclaimed original novel, in the original book, Greg – the main character – is Jewish (as is the original author, Jesse Andrews), and originally meets Rachel at Hebrew School. So clearly, Andrews knows his “Jewish stuff”. Fascinating that he felt that (or was pressured into?) making his original story “less Jewish”. It’s still a great story, Jesse (I loved the film), but I would have loved to see the screen version of the original novel.
Greg (played by Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) in a still from the film below.