The first time I had heard of this movie was when I got an email inviting me to a screening. I had never seen a preview for it, but a free movie is a free movie, so I signed up for passes. I was expecting it to be something like The Fault in Our Stars and so did my not-so-excited boyfriend who thought I was dragging him to a chick flick. The screening itself was much smaller than the others I’d been to, so even though he was late and we didn’t get to the theater until after 6:30 p.m., there were plenty of good seats left. After a few warnings about not using our cell phones, the couple in front of us pulled out a couple of burritos and we settled in to watch the movie.
Like so many teen movies, the story opens like with an awkward high school student, Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) who doesn’t really fit in well. He floats from clique to clique and has only one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), who he calls his “coworker.” The way they describe high school cliques is pretty cliche, but maybe I think that about most teen movies. What was interesting and different about this one, was that Greg was an outcast because he was afraid to become close to people, not because the kids in his high school picked on him. When an acquaintance of his, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), is diagnosed with cancer, he is forced by his mother to hang out with her. I went in thinking there would be some grand romance, like most YA story lines have, but I was surprised that Greg and Rachel don’t fall in love. After the initial surprise, I think it made the ending of the movie even stronger.
I had few complaints about this movie, one of them being the narration. Sometimes narration works really well in movies, but it was unnecessary here. The movie started off with Greg writing his college essay, so the narration was probably to remind you that he was telling the “audience” the story of how his senior year of high school destroyed his life, but I didn’t need the reminders that it wasn’t a typical cancer movie and they weren’t going to fall in love. Nor did I need him to keep telling us that Rachel didn’t die. Another thing I thought was strange was the lack of knowledge of Rachel’s life before Greg. There was that one awkward scene with her friends, but other than that, Rachel didn’t seem to have friends anymore. I know the movie was about the relationship between her and Greg, but I always think that there needs to be some context of how characters’ lives used to be.
Despite those few things, I think the movie was beautifully done. Maybe I’m just more sentimental than most when it comes to books and movie, but I really cared about Rachel and Greg. I almost cried at the end of the movie when Greg realized he was losing everything. His last two scenes with Rachel were the most heartbreaking, even though I suspected how it would end. The movie is about so much more than Rachel’s cancer, and that’s what I loved most about it. There was a lot going on, but I think the screenwriter (and author of the book), Jesse Andrews, and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, did an amazing job weaving all the aspects of the story together. That’s what sets it apart from other movies like it.