The sleeper of the summer, ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ comes of age


BEST OF THE YEAR | Resonant, emotional but never cloying, Me (Thomas Mann, center), Earl (RJ Cyler, right) and the Dying Girl (Olivia Cooke, left) turns the teen tearjerker into a brilliant homage to the movies.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Chances are, if you’re a movie buff, you’ve been hotly awaiting this weekend so you could see one of the best moviegoing experiences of the summer. And you’re right. But probably for the wrong reason.

Yes, yes, Jurassic World is primed to claw its way to the top of the box office list, but for the most exhilarating emotional ride of the summer, nothing’s gonna beat Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

OK, so the title doesn’t sound exactly like a studio tentpole, a crowd-pleaser to make the heat go away for a few hours and get the blood pumping. And truth be told, the “ride” part is less chills and thrills, more ups and downs. But trust me: This is the coming-of-age movie for people who hate (and who love) coming-of-age movies. And movies in general.

Screen shot 2015-06-11 at 10.21.40 AMThat’s certainly true of Greg (Thomas Mann) and his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler). Middle-class pals since kindergarten, Greg and Earl hang out more because of geography and their mutual appreciation for obscure documentaries and classic cinema than for their pursuit of girls. Most of their free time is spent adapting films like Citizen Kane and Midnight Cowboy into spoofy one-reelers with names like Senior Citizen Kane and 3:12 pm. Cowboy. Now seniors, both have coasted through school by remaining under the radar — not joining any cliques, not making any waves, not cultivating any real friendships. They’re happy ciphers.

Until Greg’s mom (Connie Britton of the trifecta of Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and Nashville) insists he befriend a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. She nags him into being a good person in the way only well-intentioned but tone-deaf moms can: Hang out with her — you know, for Jesus and whatnot. What starts as an assignment blooms into a relationship, with Earl committing them both to making a movie for and about Rachel.

That’s all you need or should know about Me & Earl, which, despite a dearth of plot twists (hey, the title says a lot, as does the opening line), is nevertheless one of the most surprising delights of the season. The director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (a TV veteran from Glee and AHS, with only his second debut), employs a breathtakingly creative but subtle visual style, and teases from his cast (which also includes quirky cameos from Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal) heartfelt but never cloying performances, thanks to Jesse Andrews’ sunnily nuanced script (adapted from his own novel). There’s not a dinosaur in sight; there doesn’t need to be. Feelings this authentic don’t require any CGI.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 12, 2015.