Written by Jesse Andrews / 103 pages
*NOTE: I’ve broken down the script in my best estimation of plot/sequence breaks. I may be wrong, but this is how I mentally structured this story.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a coming of age story. Our hero, Greg, is a high school senior who has some serious growing up to do. Though the character specifics might be a bit different, the nature of this story is similar to films like The Spectacular Now, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars. These are stories in which the young character stumbles and endures and ultimately learns a necessary truth about life. When the story ends the rest of their life begins.
Sequence 1: (page 1 – 13) – introduction to story, character, world
Greg introduces himself to us through a voiceover which will carry us throughout the entire film, only dipping out for a few pages at a time. He is writing a college essay, and he explains to us the broad outline of the story in a manner that boils it all down to the basics, and that’s where you get that impersonal title.
The title is important because Greg is all about keeping a safe distance from everything in his life. He’s a character who survives because of an extensive system in which he navigates the high school ecosystem hoping not to be noticed. Greg refers to the school population as a series of nations. He then tells us his plan on page 4, “get citizenship in EVERY nation. Get passports to EVERYWHERE.”
The first 8 pages of the story introduce us to Greg and this world. The scene description refers to his system as “the data with which a high-functioning autistic person might negotiate the terrifying social world of high school.”
Greg’s life is in a precarious balance. He has one friend, Earl, whom he insists is only a “coworker,” and everyday they eat lunch in the office of their favorite teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Everything is as it should be.
Page 9 brings us what might normally be the inciting incident when Greg’s mother (who is only ever referred to as GREG’S MOM) tells him to go be friends with Rachel, his classmate who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg doesn’t have a particularly close relationship with her, as established by his purposeful distance from everyone in his grade, but because of his impulse to avoid confrontation or anything that could possibly harm him, he abides by his mother’s commands.
Greg calls Rachel one afternoon, but their short conversation goes nowhere. Though slightly embarrassed, Greg is more or less okay with this as he thinks it fulfills his mother’s request. Greg is back in stasis, and we remain in sequence 1… until his mother pushes him to visit Rachel in person. This comes at the end of page 13, and it’s important that the inciting incident shows just how much of a force Greg’s mother must exert on him, showing his stubborn reluctance to disrupt his personal system of living.
Sequence 2: (page 14 – 26) – debate before we leap into the point of no return
So page 14 starts with the title, “the part where I meet a dying girl.” This begins sequence 2, and it runs until page 26. Within these twelve pages Greg transforms from a reluctant participant in these pity hangouts with the sick girl to a genuine friendship. This sequence (and Act 1 as a whole) ends with this line of scene description: “for the first time in his life, a girl has understood him.”
In this sequence Greg and Rachel bond when he mistakenly reveals her secret to the school (that she has leukemia) and they subsequently discuss their shared disdain for revealing personal information. Rachel’s reluctance to invite people into her life mirrors Greg’s own fear of getting too close to anyone.
Sequence 3: (page 27 – 34) – fun & games
Sequence 3 starts on page 27 with the text, “the part where Rachel and I become actual friends a.k.a. THE POINT OF NO RETURN,” so the film demonstrates an intense, perhaps irritating, self-awareness.
This sequence, the “fun & games” section of the script, shows a montage of Greg and Rachel bonding. Throughout each moment there is onscreen text telling us what numbered day it is of their “doomed friendship.”
Things get a little more serious when Rachel opens up about her illness, and in response, on page 30 Greg states, “for a kid like me, best-case for high school is, just survive. That’s all you can hope for. Survive without creating a mortal enemy or hideously embarrassing yourself forever.”
This makes all the more clear his internal goal. It’s not about moving forward or living but just about surviving, and this clearly, purposefully mirrors Rachel’s much more immediate goal to survive her illness (though her character is often pushed to the side in service of Greg’s own journey because this is Greg’s own coming of age story).
They also discuss Greg’s apprehensive feelings towards college. He says he might not apply, and Rachel points out the absurdity in his line of thinking. He has to go to college, and all his reasons for not going are selfish and, frankly, dumb. Greg is so scared of hurting himself that he wishes to remain a hermit.
At the same time the film opens with him writing a college essay, so this only further clarifies that this moment is something which will change. Like any good character arc the story begins at a point of stasis in which a character is flawed and/or stuck in an outdated way of thinking, something which will inevitably change by the end of the movie (though a counter-example would be in Diablo Cody’s Young Adult).
So far in this story, Rachel’s role is to help bring Greg out of his shame spiral. She is a complex character, or should be, but despite her own more pressing concerns her role is simply to serve Greg’s arc. It’s more than a bit reductive, and though I enjoy this story and really enjoyed the movie (it made me cry, I should say, but that might just be the Brian Eno track used in the climactic moment), Rachel only exists to change Greg’s life.
So with that being said, the third sequence of the film tracks Greg as he climbs out of the trenches and into the high school battlefield. Rachel tells him to eat lunch with her and her friends, and things go wrong pretty quickly.
Because Greg is frightened and neurotic, he makes a fool out of himself and then tries to recover by making jokes at the expense of those around him. One of these jokes is directed at Scott Mayhew, one of Greg’s many casual acquaintances whom we were introduced to in the opening prologue of the story. Scott hears a particularly mean-spirited joke, and Greg quickly makes an enemy of the one-time ally.
On page 34, Greg’s voiceover tells us, “and just like that, eight years of carefully cultivated invisibility: Gone. Fin.” This shows that there are consequences to Greg’s new path through life, the one instigated by his friendship with Rachel. This is also where the “fun & games” portion of the script ends and Greg must deal with these consequences.
Sequence 4: (page 34 – 54) – things get serious
Sequence 4 begins, by my estimation, on page 34 when Greg recounts these recent events to his buddy Earl. They’re situated in Mr. McCarthy’s office, their little home away from home and the only place they can relax.
On page 35, Greg mentions how “people just assume Rachel and I are dating. And it’s ruining my life.” It’s also at this point that Greg distances himself a little more from the audience because he’s quite selfish and delusional. It’s pretty clear that these aren’t all that severe of problems, but who he is at the beginning of the story is heightened, I’d reason, in order to better stick the landing of who he is at the end of the story, when he’s grown up a little bit.
Page 37 begins an afternoon drug trip in which Greg and Earl accidentally find themselves stoned in class. They think it’s from Mr. McCarthy’s soup, though later they will discover that it came from two cookies Earl won in a bet from a classmate named Ill Phil.
Greg is meant to hangout with Rachel, but because he’s already neurotic and now stoned (for presumably the first time in his life), he requests that Earl join him. Add this to the stress Greg already feels when he mentioned that the rumors he and Rachel are dating are “ruining” his life, and this makes the interaction with Rachel more of a battle. But again, this is all his doing.
Because Greg is so stoned, this sequence allows Earl and Rachel to bond. Earl shines a light into Greg’s brain when he tells her, “he just hates callin anyone his friend. Dude’s got issues” (page 43).
Greg’s and Earl’s friendship is founded on an affinity for weird old films, and they remake distorted versions of these films a la the characters in Be Kind Rewind.
Earl then shows Rachel one of these films he and Greg made, and later on Greg willingly gives her one of their films. This demonstrates that he is opening up and letting her in.
The sequence ends at around page 54 when Greg’s friend Madison tells him to make a short film for Rachel. Like with the inciting incident, it’s a goal handed to him by someone else. In other words Greg remains passive, following the pressures of those around him which disrupt his intended wandering through life.
Act 2B/Sequence 5: (page 55 – 73) – regroup & respond to the rising action
Act 2B, following the midpoint, things get a little more serious. Rachel grows more sick, and she quits joking around to make sure Greg does indeed apply to college. She helps him write his personal essay, conquering a big fear of his, and after she applies this pressure there is a short montage of their “doomed friendship,” culminating with Greg learning that he was accepted to Pittsburgh State University.
Greg experiences more stress trying to make this movie for Rachel. As her health declines he feels more and more pressure to make this perfect, but he is full of self-loathing, and he has said repeatedly that these films “suck.” He and Earl have only made so many because they make them for themselves.
Greg lays out his fear to Earl, saying that if others see this film it will jeopardize his perceived anonymity at school. Everyone will see them as “weird filmmakers,” and his perfect system will be destroyed.
They have trouble filming the movie, and Greg reveals to us that he did “zero schoolwork” during this time. The stress of the film, of skipping out on all this work and of Rachel’s poor health becomes too much to bear. It leads to a fight between the two in which Rachel reveals that she is no longer going to continue chemo. Greg chews her out for giving up, and Rachel points out a painful truth, that “[Greg’s] mom forced you to hang out with me. Earl forced you to show me your movies. Madison forced you to make a movie for me. So yeah. What part of any of that did you actually want to do?”
Sequence 6: (page 74 – 89) – dark night of the soul
This scene leads into the dark night of the soul, aka sequence 6, on page 74. Greg is stewing following the outburst at Rachel, and this leads into him starting a fight with Earl because Earl betrayed him by telling Rachel about the film they were working on.
Greg then meets with Mr. McCarthy who gives him an important lesson, one Greg surely can’t understand in the moment but will recall at the end of the story. It is also the central theme of the story, that you can continue learning about someone long after they’ve died and in doing so can keep their memory alive.
Earl tells Greg he’s done with their film project, and Greg is all alone. He then gets into another fight with the kid whose edibles Greg and Earl mistakenly ate earlier. Their actions got Ill Phil kicked out of school, so now he returns wanting revenge. Earl jumps in and saves Greg, and right after Madison asks him to prom.
Act 3/Sequence 7: (page 89 – 93) – final action up until ‘all is lost’ moment
Madison’s prom invitation breathes new life into Greg. We watch him get ready for prom, but is he headed to pick up Madison? Why no, he’s headed to the hospital to see Rachel.
It’s a heartwarming turn, but it also comes out of the blue, and was this always part of the plan? The story fools the audience, making us think he’s going to see Madison, but then we just forget about her.
At the hospital Greg shows Rachel the film he and Earl made for her. This is the scene in the movie which made me tear up. He shows her this beautifully homemade, flawed short film and coupled with Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship,” it gave me chills. It’s hauntingly beautiful, or maybe I’m a sucker.
Anyways, I was quite surprised when I read this portion of the script, and the scene plays out as follows…
The story undercuts any kind of impact the short film may have had, and the sequence ends with Rachel’s death.
Sequence 8: (page 93 – 103) – final resolution
The story goes on to offer meaning through a retroactive consideration of the film. After Rachel dies, Greg learns that her mother and then the rest of the faculty loved the film. There is an awkward school assembly in which the principal, the day after Rachel passes, shows the film to the school and brings Greg and Earl onstage to discuss it. It’s a strange moment, a little too fantastical for the story, and I’m glad it was cut from the movie.
In the script this strips the intimacy from the friendship between Greg and Rachel by putting the meaningful moment after she dies. In the movie they get to share the moment in her last minutes of consciousness.
The final sequence concerns the visitation at Rachel’s house after her funeral. Greg retreats to her room and discovers a letter she wrote to him, and he gets to share a final moment with her even when she’s already gone. This is the coda to the story that ostensibly ends when Rachel dies. Greg, alone, learns something about part of the meaning of life, and we take it he will carry this lesson with him into adulthood.
I will say that the script version is more in line with the overall tone and perspective of the movie. This is the story of a boy reflecting on this time in his life. Because this is his story, all the meaning is about his life, with most of the impact coming in retrospect as he recalls these past moments. In the movie they share this moment which makes it so much better, and I do wish more of the movie/story was balanced between the two characters’ perspectives.
Up Next: Krampus (2015), Split (2016), 3:10 to Yuma (2007)