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45 Years / Me & Earl & The Dying Girl / Listings

by Now Then Sheffield

Both 45 Years (d. Andrew Haigh, UK, 2015) and Me & Earl & The Dying Girl (d. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, USA, 2014) explore the impact of death via characters at very different stages of life – the me, Earl and 'dying girl' in one are high school teens, while the protagonist couple of 45 Years are on the brink of their 45th wedding anniversary. One follows Greg’s friendship with the ‘dying girl’, Rachel, someone he barely knows until his mother insists he hangs out with her. The other follows Kate, whose husband Geoff receives news that the body of his girlfriend, Katya, has been found in a glacier where she fell to her death many years before.

In both films, the dead or dying ‘girl’ is peripheral. Katya’s death is far in the past. And while Rachel is alive, we learn little more about her than we do about Katya, because in Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, the only character who matters is Greg. It’s all about the ‘Me’.

While 45 Years messes with how Western film (still) tends to align us with white male protagonists, Me & Earl – despite its pretensions to filmmaking self-awareness, with Greg and Earl cast as filmmakers – most decidedly does not. Narratively, these differences are clear, but it’s stylistically and formally that they’re most interesting and most powerful.

45 Years focuses on a female protagonist. Kate is in shot far more than Geoff, who’s frequently elided completely, blurred or just partly in shot, with Kate omnipresent. Such strategies generally service white male characters. 45 Years is especially interesting because its story’s starting point is Geoff’s. The letter is for him, and it’s he who has to deal with the memories and feelings involved (as Kate says: “Memories. They’re the things, aren’t they?”). In this context, the film’s favouring of Kate’s 'story' seems odd. We wonder - why are we not focusing on Geoff, on his feelings, on how he is coping?

In contrast, Me & Earl is a case study in subordinating the stories of female and black characters to a straight white male protagonist. Its use of screen space reflects this, relentlessly focused on Greg, on his feelings. While the film has moments of ostensible awareness of this – for example, Earl’s impassioned attack on Greg for making everything about himself, not Rachel – those moments are precisely that: just moments. And just like Rachel, Earl does little beyond forcing Greg to be more confident and self-aware. (His other main contribution is making repeated references to “titties”, rendering him an over-sexualised black male side-kick to a white protagonist… Enough said.)

Ultimately, each film does what the majority of filmmaking still does best: focusing on an individual protagonist to the exclusion of much else, sidelining the potential experiences of others and using formal and stylistic devices to this end. Where they differ is that while Me & Earlseems unaware of the extent to which it does this, 45 Years foregrounds it to unusual effect.

The emotional flux shown in 45 Years is more evocative of human relationships than anything hinted at by Me & Earl. While the final shot shows us a moment of doubt on Kate’s part, the implication is that this too might change. This feeling that what’s happened is both deeply significant to Kate and Geoff’s relationship, yet also something fleeting, is underlined formally.

While the initial establishing shot shows Kate walking the dog alone, its final instance has Geoff join Kate, having the night before said they’ll “get up and start again”. The ending ofMe & Earl is all about Greg.

Both films show us that the death of someone dear to us is life-changing, but that we also have to move on. But while one film clearly indicates the depth, longevity and overwhelming consequences of the loss of a human being, the other turns it into the subject of a personal essay for the belated college application of its white male filmmaker protagonist.

Samantha Holland

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Collated by Samantha Holland

FILM/COFFEE/MUSIC AT #9
8 October (TBC) | 7pm | Cafe #9 | Free
Café#9 is having work done this October, so screenings are subject to change. Check the Facebook page for details: Link

SUFFRAGETTE
Sarah Gavron, UK, 2015
From 12 October | Showroom | £7.10
Part of The Time Is Now!, a season of films about women forcing change around the world and throughout history, this film has divided critical opinion regarding its message-driven artistry. Previews suggest it’s a powerful piece, with an excellent cast and a story that still needs to be told. Link

STRANGER THAN FICTION
Marc Forster, USA, 2006
18 October | 7.30pm | 215 Sharrow Vale Road | £3 w/ cake and coffee
Sharrow Reels presents this tale of a tax man plagued by narration only he can hear. Less existentially angst-ridden than other filmic meta narratives (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), this is well worth watching for excellent, subdued performances and the tragicomic message that, as Fernando Croce of CinePassion says, "Cleverness can suffocate people." Link

FANTASTIC MR FOX
Wes Anderson, USA, 2009

25 October | 1pm | Moorland Discovery Centre, Longshaw Estate | £6/£3
Handmade Cinema and the National Trust present this remarkable animation in a lovely setting, with a ‘woodland animation workshop’ the preceding Sunday (tickets £5). A fantastic film, stylistically in its ‘old fashioned’ and superb stop-motion technique, and narratively in its Andersonian examination of familial and wider anxieties. Link

SHOWROOM SHORTS
20 October | 8.45pm | Showroom Bar | Free
The Showroom presents screenings of fantastic animation from the brand new Manchester Animation Festival in the relaxed environment of their café bar. Programmed by South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network. Link

DOUBLE BILL: TEEN WITCH & THE CRAFT
Dorian Walker, USA, 1989 / Andrew Fleming, USA, 1996
30 October | 7:15pm | Film Unit, Sheffield Students' Union | £3.50
The Five and Dime Picture Show’s Halloween eve double bill presents cult classics about nerdy schoolgirl Louise discovering magical powers that kick in on her 16th birthday, and next, four teen girls who create a coven of high-school comedy-horror. Fancy dress encouraged. Candy and crafty video clips provided. Link

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by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 91

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