OK. Now that they're gone, we can get back to this quite special film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which fits nicely in the same groove of smart, wry comedies where Little Miss Sunshine, Garden State, (500) Days of Summer and Lars and the Real Girl landed. This new mini-masterpiece, scripted by Jesse Andrews from his own bestselling YA novel and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, was the runaway most-buzzed about film at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, snagging both the Grand Jury Prize and coveted Audience Award.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl begins as a mildly amusing coming-of-age film but quickly evolves into something much more. About 20 minutes in, the film begins feeling like a comfortable T-shirt; a half-hour later, it's the comfort of a favorite T-shirt; and by the end, it's the T-shirt you'll wear until it's ragged. My sense is that American audiences will discover a personal connection to this lovely film, yet they will learn soon enough that they're not alone: Variety has already called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl "a touchstone for its generation," and The New York Times credits the title characters as "three young people in whose company it is a pleasure to drift and wonder."
"Me" is Greg (Thomas Mann), who avoids the minefields of high school where he doesn't fit it anywhere by nearly fitting in everywhere, co-opting what he calls partial "citizenship" in most of the high school's "warring nations": jocks, nerds, theater geeks, goths and the nearly homicidal. Suffice to say, Greg compares the school lunch room to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"Some people think Earl [RJ Cyler] is my friend," says Greg. He's more like a co-worker." That "work" they do is rather unique, inspired by their shared love for independent movies. Influenced by a canon of critically acclaimed and foreign films (think of the Criterion Collection), Greg and Earl write and star in their own home movies—with a twist. For example, Apocalypse Now becomes A Box of Lips, Wow, Greg and Earl's own war drama complete with parachuting soldiers, a score including "Ride of the Valkyries" and some plucked tulips that, you guessed it, end up in a box.
Other gems include: A Sock Work Orange (inspired by A Clockwork Orange): sock puppets enjoying some orange juice; Death in Tennis (Death in Venice); Rosemary's Baby Carrots (Rosemary's Baby); and my personal favorite, 2:48 p.m. Cowboy (Midnight Cowboy).
Then there's Rachel, the "dying girl," and the star-making performance from Olivia Cooke. With so many young adult novels and movies of late featuring terminal heroines (If I Stay, The Fault in Our Stars), I was, pardon the pun, deathly afraid this movie might be heading down a familiar path of morbidity. Fortunately, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has little patience for such nonsense. That said, take some tissues—not because it's so sad, but because it's so sincere.
The adults (I use the term loosely) in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are equally swell: there's Molly Shannon as Rachel's mom and as Greg's parents, Connie Britton as the almost-always teary-eyed mom and the wonderful Nick Offerman as a bathrobe-wearing, kale chip-eating dad, who is a tenured sociology professor with a bit too much time on his hands. Greg's folks hug a little too much, and those group-hugs usually involve the family's cat, Stevens. It took me a minute to get it: Cat Stevens. Priceless. Hugh Jackman is also in this film, too, but if you think I'm giving anything more away on that cameo, you, too, now must turn the page.
For the select few who have endured the entire length of this review, my humblest thanks. I owe you some popcorn. Better still, take my tip and run to see this amazing film.