Laughs Leaven Tears In 'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl' Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a surprise smash at this year's Sundance Film Festival; it's a tale of three teens facing mortality that manages to capture teen angst without wallowing in drama.
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Laughs Leaven Tears In 'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl'

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Laughs Leaven Tears In 'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl'

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Movie Reviews

Laughs Leaven Tears In 'Me And Earl And The Dying Girl'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A surprise smash at this year's Sundance Film Festival was a comedy about high school students dealing with mortality. "Me And Earl And The Dying Girl" won both the Audience award and the Grand Jury prize. The movie struck a chord with Sundance filmmakers partly because it's also about teenagers who make their own movies. In a moment, we'll hear from its director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. But first, critic Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In his senior year, Greg has perfected the wisecrack as a substitute for high school interaction. A member of no clique, he's on friendly terms with all cliques because he only half-engages, zooming down a hall, hearing a snatch of conversation...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Your test was today?

MONDELLO: ...And offering his two cents.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

THOMAS MANN: (As Greg) Ugh, tests - I've been there.

MONDELLO: His one close buddy, Earl, he's known forever. They bonded as kids while watching his dad's film collection and then coming up with punny titles for their movie parodies - "A Sockwork Orange," "Senior Citizen Kane." But being jokey and making videos does not prepare Greg for news his mother gives him about a classmate.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

CONNIE BRITTON: (As Greg's mom) Rachel's been diagnosed with leukemia. They just found out.

MONDELLO: He flashes back to what he overheard in the hall.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Your test was today?

MONDELLO: And now his wise-crack makes him wince.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

MANN: (As Greg) Ugh, tests - I've been there.

Oh, god.

MONDELLO: Worse, his mom insists that he go and spend some time with Rachel, though he barely knows her, and social grace is not his strong suit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

OLIVIA COOKE: (As Rachel) I don't need your stupid pity. It's fine. You can just go.

MANN: (As Greg) No, no. Hey, you got it all wrong. I'm not here 'cause I pity you. I'm actually here just 'cause my mom is making me.

COOKE: (As Rachel) That's actually worse.

MANN: (As Greg) Yeah, I know.

MONDELLO: Rachel does let him hang around, and soon they're bonding - somewhat. The moviemaker in Greg senses that that's cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

MANN: (As Greg) So if this was a touching romantic story, our eyes would meet and suddenly we would be furiously making out with the fire of thousand suns. But this isn't a touching romantic story.

Anyway...

COOKE: (As Rachel) Yup.

MONDELLO: Partly to protect himself from too much closeness and too much pain if Rachel's illness progresses, he brings Earl into their world and ends up opening himself up more than he intended.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

COOKE: (As Rachel) So you and Greg are co-workers?

RJ CYLER: (As Earl) Nah, we friends. He just hate calling people his friend. Dude's got issues.

COOKE: (As Rachel) Yeah, he does. But how are you co-workers?

CYLER: (As Earl) We make films.

COOKE: (As Rachel) Movies?

CYLER: (As Earl) Yeah. We've been making them for a few years now. We have, like, 42 in total.

COOKE: (As Rachel) Greg, you never told me.

CYLER: (As Earl) Well, we never told anybody about 'em. They suck. I mean, they're terrible.

COOKE: (As Rachel) I'm pretty sure they don't suck.

CYLER: (As Earl) Well, you can see for yourself if you want.

MONDELLO: And Greg is outed, as it were, a creative soul in high school who finds himself having to make a film for a dying girl. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has a sure sense of the sort of kid who would use a camera lens as a shield, and also a nifty way of using camera tricks - weird angles, voiceovers, animation - to get at the insanity that is teenagerdom, nowhere more so than when the boys are working on their movies, making their "Apocalypse Now" parody, say, "Box Of Tulips Wow" - toy soldiers parachuting into a vacant lot jungle to rescue a box of origami tulips. Genius. Sheer genius. This kid, you figure, is going to grow up to be quite a storyteller. And he did. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL")

COOKE: (As Rachel) Oh, my god, am I on set right now? Oh, my god. He can't take it. Action. Cut. (Laughter). That's a wrap. Rolling.

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