Showdown: The Fault in Our Stars vs. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

posters

Two summers, two well-reviewed teen cancer dramadies for teens based off of award-winning YA books. Though they are quite different in tone and theme, the two beg to be compared and contrasted. So: Fault vs. Earl. Who ya got? Let’s take a look, category by category.

Source Book:

I really, really love Earl — it’s somehow both funnier and sadder than Fault, filled with great scenes and lines. The ending fleshes out complicated, wrenching emotions.

But Fault is an instant YA classic, existentially profound and stunningly written by Green, who exhibits brilliant craft.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Poster:

I adore the shade of turquoise that Earl‘s poster uses, but that’s the only thing interesting or noteworthy about it. Fault‘s poster is much more striking. Hazel’s breathing tube draws your eye. The framing so that Gus and Hazel fill the whole poster is very cool.

(The pic included at the top of this page for Earl is actually the cover of the movie tie-in novel reprint, but the actual movie poster is basically the same, I just couldn’t find a picture of it.)

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Trailer:

Both are good trailers (see Fault’s and Earl’s), but I’ll give the edge to Fault. Earl‘s trailer fails to capture the movie’s visual energy, while Fault’‘s is almost overflowing with the movie’s great dialog and earnest romance.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Plot:

As much as I love Fault, there are a few plot points that bug me when I watch it. Several beats feel like contrivances, most notably the twist of Gus getting sick instead of Hazel — a U-turn on what the story had been prepping us for before then.

Earl, on the other hand, is much lighter on plot and heavier on visual rumination. But it suits the movie well: A slow, straightforward build to the inevitably sad ending gives it more impact. It’s not perfect — I don’t like the unreliable narrator gimmick, for example — but I’ll give it the edge.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Dialogue and Narration:

Dialogue and narration are definitely Fault‘s strongest suit. Witty, romantic banter illuminates the bond between Gus and Hazel. So many lines are classics — Gus fearing oblivion, citing his cigarette as a metaphor, Hazel insisting she’s a “grenade,” the “little infinity,” “okay”-“okay,” “falling in love the way you fall asleep,” etc. etc. etc.

Earl has some great dialogue, and plenty of clever narration, but it’s just not on the same level as Fault.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Direction and Cinematography:

This is possibly the biggest margin of victory of the entire showdown; Fault is fairly plainly shot. Earl is packed to the brim with creative visuals. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon pulls out all sorts of tricks, swinging the camera in striking ways, playing with depth of field, and throwing in visual flourishes and cutaways. Gomez-Rejon (heavily indebted to Wes Anderson) might even try too hard. A few gimmicks —  a scene where the camera turns sideways, the constant return to a stop-motion clip of a mouse getting stomped on by a moose — distract more than they enhance the film, in my mind. But, in all, the visual identity of Earl is absolutely fantastic.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Male Protagonist:

Gus vs. Greg (aka “Me”). Gus’s rogue charm and romantic intensity are winning, and Ansel Elgort performs nobly (if not exceptionally) in carrying the character with depth. Still, I’ve always found Gus to be a bit uninteresting: He’s just too good and charming and relentless, too much of a dream boy.

On the other hand we have Greg. Among the few negative reviews for Earl, one of the recurring threads is that Greg is not a very good person. I’d argue that those viewers missed the point: Greg’s definitely flawed, but his redeeming traits — for example, his devotion to Rachel — are shown visually rather than extensively described. Plus, Thomas Mann absolutely kills it.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Female Protagonist:

Hazel Grace vs. Rachel (aka “The Dying Girl”). Well, this one is rather easy: Hazel and Shailene Woodley’s performance are among the highlights of Fault. Guarded but ultimately warm and caring, Hazel is a truly great character.

Rachel, meanwhile, is described by Greg as “boring” at the beginning of the movie. Her understated personality and gentleness come out as the movie continues — the character’s complexity expands with her leukemia. Olivia Cooke’s expressive facial expressions deserve praise. But Fault walks away with this one.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Male Best Friend:

Isaac vs. Earl. Nat Wolff’s turn as Gus’s friend Isaac is one of my favorite things about Fault. But he’s a much smaller overall piece of the pie than RJ Cyler is as the titular Earl. Cyler’s a new face to me, but his booming voice is pure music, and he steals plenty of scenes in Earl. The adaptation’s Earl lacks some of the depth of the book’s character, but I give him the nod.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Supporting Cast:

This one’s a toughie. Fault has the inimitable Laura Dern and Willem Defoe as Hazel’s mom and author Peter Van Houten, respectively. Earl, meanwhile, shines with Connie Britton as Greg’s mom, Nick Offerman as his dad, Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom, and a very brief cameo from Hugh Jackman.

I’m going to give the slight edge to Fault because Offerman feels miscast. He’s too goofy as Greg’s dad.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Best Scene:

My favorite scene of Fault is when Isaac is freaking out, busting trophies in the background as Hazel and Gus discuss An Imperial Affliction. There are some other excellent scenes that are heavier on the drama and romance and tearjerking, but Isaac’s hilarious meltdown is my pick.

The best scene in Earl is when Rachel reveals that she’s going to stop getting treatment to Greg. The long, unmoving shot of Rachel sharing the news and Greg digesting it packs a huge punch. While much of Earl‘s visual invention is kinetic, it’s the camera’s stillness that leaves its biggest impact.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Worst Scene:

I’m not sure why the accidental ingestion of drugs is a trope of teen comedies, but for some reason it is. When Greg and Earl accidentally get high off of their teacher’s spiked soup (or possibly some pot-laced cookies), it leads to the unnecessary scene of Greg having visions of giant walking animals.

But Fault‘s low point is even lower. It has one scene that is bad in the book and even worse on the screen: Gus and Hazel’s first kiss in the Anne Frank museum. It’s a strange and unbecoming scene, with the ovation the crowd gives them a particularly uncomfortable twist.

Less Worse: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Ending:

This is another tough call. Both movies have about five or ten minutes too many in their third act, and both make a few questionable choices. But both ultimately have strong conclusions. While Fault has that fantastic final shot — Hazel staring to the stars, whispering “okay” — Earl has the bizarre, electrifying scene of Rachel slipping out of consciousness as she watches the movie Greg made for her.

On the downsides, Fault‘s ending relies too heavily on telling — eulogies and love letters — than showing. Earl has the opposite problem, leaning on a strange, wordless scene where Greg goes through Rachel’s room discovering little secrets. I wanted more from this moment, some clearer context of how it connects to everything before it.

I say it’s a toss-up, but right now I’ll go with Fault‘s reflection on little infinities. This could change when I see Earl again.

Winner: The Fault in Our Stars

Music:

Fault‘s score is fine but rote, while its pop soundtrack is filled with exactly the stable of mediocre songs by up-and-coming artists that you expect from this type of movie.

Earl, on the other hand, has a kickass Brian Eno score, with some oldies and classical sprinkled in as diagetic music. Much more likable.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Overall:

If I counted right, Earl and Fault split the previous rounds 7-7. But for me, there’s a clear better movie, and it’s Earl. Fault is a respectable adaptation, bringing to life some of the best of Green’s novel but also turning the tearjerking up to 11.

Earl, on the other hand, adds a lot to its source material. It’s filled with visual creativity that emphasize and expand emotions of the book. It also has a higher degree of difficulty, as its source book is light on plot and heavy on narration. But Earl doesn’t need to be graded on a curve: it holds together quite well, and has me excited to watch it again.

Winner: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

 

Final Ratings:

The Fault in Our Stars (2014) – 3 stars (out of 4)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) – 3.5 stars (out of 4)

 

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

6 thoughts on “Showdown: The Fault in Our Stars vs. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

  1. Wish I had seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for this post, but I’m glad you enjoyed Fault In Our Stars–I found myself pleasantly surprised by the adaptation. Then again, I didn’t have the source material to compare it to.

    I agree with most of the things you said about Fault In Our Stars. Shailene Woodley is fantastic as Hazel, while Gus is not as interesting. I think you hit it right on with the best and worst scene. I also thought the egging scene with Isaac was a bit too strange for my liking.

    My favorite piece of dialogue, and there are plenty to choose from, has to be Hazel’s eulogy to Gus, really showcasing why I love John Green. He may not always amaze with every sentence, but I do believe he never fails to string some wonderful pieces of words together by the time you put finish one of his works.

    ‘Why do you smoke so damn fast?’ I asked.
    She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”

    Quintessential John Green. Really looking forward to the Paper Towns adaptation, and hopefully more time in my future to read more of his books!

    • Yeah, nobody in YA turns a phrase quite like John Green. He can really floor you.

      I am pretty excited about Paper Towns, too. I think it’s my favorite book by him, and I think Nat Wolff is fantastic. I’ll definitely see it in theaters.

  2. I completely agree. Whilst The Fault In Our Stars has some pretty brilliant acting –particularly from Shailene Woodley–  it didn’t really impact me half as much as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did. With “Earl”, I laughed, teared up, and recognised myself in Greg. It was pretty remarkable, honestly. I could watch it a million times.

    You completely read my mind, too, about the plot and characters and such. Sure, “Fault” is generally well-known and beloved, but I couldn’t relate to any of the characters… at all. It was too cheesy, unreal, and cliche for me. With Earl, I actually understood where Greg was coming from – being socially awkward myself. Hazel was too… pessimistic, though I did love that scene where Isaac broke everything. That was awesome.

    This was an awesome review! Have you done any more like it? 🙂

  3. I loved both movies. I think Earl is a lot more realistic and raw, it doesn’t sugar coat very much. Even the Death scene although sad they don’t lay it on too thick and make it cheesy which I love. Where as Fault lays it on thick and is very loving and sugar coated which also makes the sad parts even sadder. It really depends on what you’re more in too. If you love romantic movies Fault is perfect whereas if you like down to earth realistic movies then Earl is for you. I also wanted to say I love the pieces of music used in Rachel’s death scene and in Augustus’ letter scene. Both are very beautiful and sort of psychedelic. The Big ship is very bizarre and building up hugely making the climax even sadder than it already is. M38’s Wait does the same starting slow and getting more and more powerful and I think they both make the scenes 10x better

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