‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ offers quirky characters, unique style | ParkRecord.com

‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ offers quirky characters, unique style

Nan Chalat Noaker, The Park Record

Waitlisters hoping to get into an 8:30 a.m. screening of one of this year’s most buzzed about Sundance films went home empty handed. There was not one vacant seat to be had.

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" has been winning fans by the theater-load and deservedly so. Writer Jesse Andrew’s profoundly intelligent story, brought to life by Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and a cast of pitch-perfect actors could land several awards at Sundance’s own Oscars on Saturday.

Gomez-Rejon’s unexpected camera angles, interwoven with quirky injections of animation immediately signal to audience members that they are witnessing the emergence of a wholly original filmmaking artist. But it is the cast that sinks the hook.

The film opens in a cartoonishly familiar high school where all of the usual groups jocks, stoners, dorks and unattainable beauties — jostle each other uncomfortably in the hallways. One of the most uncomfortable is Greg Gaines, played by Thomas Mann with just the right amount of painful awkwardness and charm. His goal is no more than to survive by being as invisible as possible.

Greg’s foil, best friend and fellow amateur filmmaker is Earl, played by RJ Cyler. The two hang out in their empathetic history teacher’s office, absorbing his offbeat wisdom and support.

In addition to a kind teacher, Greg is blessed with loving, if a bit outlandish, parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton). It is his mom who nudges Greg to reach out to Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.

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While the story arc — two misfits meet and fall in love — may be predictable, nothing about the way their relationship proceeds fits a stereotypical mold. Mann, Cyler and Cooke, along with Rachel’s mom (Molly Shannon) ensure their characters are not clichés.

While the live action itself would suffice, Gomez-Rejon has inserted a delightful film-within-a-film treat for viewers.

Greg and Earl have been secretly amassing an oeuvre of animated shorts, spoofs based on classic films. Titles include "Brew Vervet," "Eyes Wide Butt," "Grumpy Cul de Sacs," "Pooping Tom" and "Senior Citizen Cane," among others. There are more than 40 of these cleverly crafted vignettes that flash by so quickly it is likely fans will be rewinding the film for years to come just to enjoy the shorts.

At a post-screening Q&A Wednesday, Gomez-Rejon told an enthusiastic audience that having a film selected by Sundance was a dream come true.

"It means a lot to me to be at Sundance. I am still a PA at heart and Sundance has always seemed like a big unattainable thing so it is a true honor to be here."

Gomez-Rejon was also quick to credit animators Edward Bursch and Nathan O. March, who created Greg and Earl’s movies.

If Gomez-Rejon’s popular film scores a win at Saturday night’s award ceremony, it could screen in one of the Sundance slots on Sunday. Some of the winning films will also be shown Monday to those who picked up free "Best of Fest" tickets earlier this month. But if you miss it this weekend, this uplifting, original movie has already been picked up for nationwide distribution. With any luck, it will also appear on the Park City Film Series’ upcoming schedule