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I’ve had this film on my planner for ages, and somehow never fancied watching it. But today, with a lazy day to myself, I finally took the plunge – and I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations, made me feel every emotion, and was well….generally brilliant.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who is determined to avoid all the typical cliques and instead stays on the periphery of all high school groups (such as the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc). He doesn’t like to get close to people and his only friend – although Greg doesn’t like the word ‘friend’ so instead uses the term ‘co-worker’ – is the titular Earl (R J Cyler). The two of them spend their time making so-bad-they’re-good spoof movies such as Brew Velvet, A Sockwork Orange, Yellow Submarine Sandwich, and (my particular favourite title) 2.48pm Cowboy.

When Greg’s mother tells him he must be friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a schoolmate who he hardly knows and who has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is initially reluctant, but what starts out as an awkward situation soon becomes a real connection. Earl is also drawn into the friendship.

Given that the film is narrated by Greg, and Rachel is the centre of his and Earl’s attention, it’s actually the character of Earl who I found most interesting. On the surface he seems like a bit of a slacker, but he reveals surprising depth and perception.

It’s a beautifully told story – it did make me laugh and also made me cry. Most importantly, it made me feel for all of the characters – the three main characters, Rachel’s mom Denise (played by the always brilliant Molly Shannon), even the relative small character of their teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). They are all believable, fully fleshed out characters. The three youngsters – all of which actors were unknown to me – were brilliant, and the supporting cast did a great job too.

I really enjoyed this film and have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Full disclosure: The first time (and only time until now) that I watched this film was when it first came out in 1991, at the cinema.  At that time, it resonated strongly with me, because I was head-over-heels in (unrequited) love with a young man, who was very ill and was receiving chemotherapy.

So 23 years later, in entirely different circumstances, I was not sure if I would enjoy it as much as I did previously.  It did however have the advantage of starring Campbell Scott, who is an actor I always enjoy watching.  He plays Victor Geddes, a 28 year old man who has had Leukemia for 10 years.  He hires Hilary (Julia Roberts) as a carer, to help him with the debilitating effects of his treatment.  They end up falling in love when Victor is in remission, but when he becomes ill again, their relationship is put under tremendous strain.

As it turned out, I did enjoy watching this film again.  Admittedly, it is flawed in places, and the Hilary character in particular is a bundle of cliches, but despite this, it is still a very moving and emotional story.  Campbell Scott was always a perfect choice to play Victor, and he did an excellent job at portraying the young man’s frustration and anger, as well as his determination to enjoy whatever time he has left.  He has a beautiful fragility and gentleness about him, and it is easy to understand how he and Hilary – who come from entirely different backgrounds, and initially struggle to understand each other – end up falling in love.  At one point, he decides that he is no longer going to receive treatment for his disease, and is going to let things play out as they will.  His feelings are entirely reasonable, but so are those of Hilary and his father, who don’t want him to give up.

Overall, I would say that this is a film well worth seeing, but make sure you have tissues handy, because you will cry.

Year of release: 1991

Director: Joel Schumacher

Producers: Sally Field, Mauri Syd Gayton, Duncan Henderson, Kevin McCormick

Writers: Marti Leimbacj (novel), Richard Friedenberg

Main cast: Campbell Scott, Julia Roberts, Vincent D’Onofrio, Colleen Dewhurst

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