Most years I have to wait until at least the fall and sometimes even into late-December, when the heavyweight Oscar contenders begin to unveil themselves across movie theaters nationwide, in order to find that special film that astonishes me on all fronts. Well, Christmas came early last night as I had the privilege of catching this year's superb Sundance Grand Jury and Audience prize winner, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Recent winners of Park City's most prestigious award, namely Whiplash and Beasts of the Southern Wild, ultimately found a large level of Oscar success. But although my instincts tell me that this year's indie gem won't have the same sustaining power as those previous awards season contenders, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is still far and away the most superior of the bunch.
Based on Jesse Andrews' novel of the same name Thomas Mann stars as Greg, a self-loathing high school senior who spends his days staying under the radar and making films with his lifelong "co-worker", Earl (RJ Cyler). But when Greg reluctantly befriends a cancer-stricken classmate named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) at his mom's demanding request, their relationship slowly pulls Greg out from under his shell. And as Rachel's medical condition begins to worsen, Greg and Earl struggle to make a momentous cinematic masterpiece on her behalf.
Beautifully infusing elements of cynicism, sarcasm, fear, tenderness and compassion, novelist turned screenwriter, Jesse Andrews, delivers a screenplay for the ages. Never before has a coming-of-age film felt so earnest and forthright. Andrews creates dialogue that's unapologetically honest and occasionally awkward at all the right times. And through his words, budding stars Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke give the type of spectacular performances that re-direct a career. Selecting lesser known, but equally talented, leads was a brilliant choice by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. These fresh faces give Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a clean slate and the pair of dynamic stars provide such a rare and unique voice to their characters. Furthermore, enough can't be stated about the supporting turns as well, which happen to come from newbie RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal. Of the bunch, Cyler is given the largest platform to work with and his natural comedic abilities are wonderfully counter-balanced by a soulful handling of the film's more dramatic moments.
For such an impressive script and cast, matching these bright spots with the stylish eye and vision of filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon only elevated the film to even greater heights. Alfonso incorporated many rare shots in his repertoire that added an enormous level of distinction to the film. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl amazes on nearly every level and displays a special blend of both humor and tenderness which is simply perfected through Rejon's keen eye.
Throughout a brisk 104 minute affair, the film takes its audience on an unforgettable journey boasting a wide array of emotions. There were laughs and there were tears, but most importantly there was an indestructible connection between each and every moviegoer and all of the characters we fell in love with onscreen. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a magnificent piece of cinema that warrants a viewing from just about film lover out there, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled when the feature hit theaters this June.