I love this movie. I love this movie so, so, so much. Mere minutes into Sunday afternoon’s Sundance screening of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I started involuntarily whispering those words to the fellow journalist sitting next to me. I laughed hard many, many times. I bawled for minutes on end. And like the rest of the audience, I rose to my feet to applaud while the credits were rolling, tears still streaming down my face.
More than any other movie that’s screened at Sundance 2015, Me and Earl feels like a breakout hit — it boasts an exciting second-time feature-film director, Alfonso Goméz-Rejón (who’s done Emmy-winning work as one of the most visually experimental directors on American Horror Story); a sharp first-time screenwriter, Jesse Andrews (adapting his own novel); and a virtually unknown young lead, Thomas Mann, whose previous work (2012’s house-party-gone-wild trifle Project X) didn’t exactly suggest that he was capable of such heavy lifting.
So what is the movie about? Well, there is terminal illness involved, and … keep reading only if you’re okay with possible SPOILERS. On the surface, Me and Earl is another sick-kid movie, about an outcast Pittsburgh boy, Greg, played by Mann, who’s forced by his mother (Connie Britton; Nick Offerman plays his weirdo sociology-professor dad) to be the cheer wagon for a classmate, Rachel (virtual newcomer Olivia Cooke), who’s been diagnosed with stage-four leukemia. What sets Me and Earl apart, though, is Greg’s unreliable narration, as a goofy kid who’s using humor, denial, and a giant imagination to keep from thinking about the devastation in front of him. He’s doing his best to distract Rachel by bringing her into the world he shares world with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler), a black kid from a rougher neighborhood — the two spend their time irreverently remaking art-house classics. (Eyes Wide Butt, My Dinner With Andre the Giant, and A Sockwork Orange.) Director Goméz-Rejón, a former personal assistant to Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron, among others, has both style and heart to spare, coming off like Wes Anderson and the Wallace & Gromit guys meet John Hugh