One of the amazing things about the Sundance Film Festival is it attracts people from all walks of life from all over the globe. As one of the world”s preeminent film festivals that might seem obvious, but my experience during the world premiere of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” may surprise even the most callous industry observers.
“Earl,” which was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, is a coming of age drama that in its own ways shatters the cliche's of the genre. It tells the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), a High School senior who is pressured by his mother (Connie Britton) to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the daughter of a family friend who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Along with his seemingly one real friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II), they cheer Rachel up by screening their homemade remakes of classic films (“Senior Citizen Kane,” “2:48 PM Cowboy,” etc.) which they have been making for years. They also start to make a movie just for Rachel, but Greg just can't get his head around it and, sadly, time may be running out.
But, back to that fateful Sunday afternoon in Park City.
Before the premiere at the Eccles Theater began, I arrived early and looked to find a seat in the one row that allows for ample leg room. There were still some seats in the center of the row available next to this one couple that must have been in their late 60's. I asked the woman if the seat next to them was free immediately thinking I recognized her from somewhere. She kindly said, “absolutely” (paraphrasing), and I sat down still wondering who she was. Within a minute another woman came over to her, introduced herself and she said something akin to “My name is [whatever] and I'm on the Sundance Board of Trustees. If you need any help with anything, any screenings please let us know.” Now, that's not something you hear everyday at a major film festival so I turned once more to look at the woman sitting next to me again and it hit me.
My screening companion was California Senator Barbra Boxer.
This revelation might not mean anything to you, but as a longtime resident of California and someone who has voted for Boxer a number of times this was like sitting next to a rock star. When you work in the movie business long enough, unless they are iconic superstars, actors don't tend to impress you much. On the other hand, major political figures, sports stars and pop stars? We become just as fan girl and fan boy as everyone else.
Mustering up some courage, I clumsily introduced myself to the Senator and thanked her for all her work (we have the same views on a number of issues). Boxer was actually at the festival to support Kirby Dick's documentary on campus rape, “The Hunting Ground,” which has premiered the day before, but was spending the rest of the weekend seeing movies with her husband. The film eventually began and it blew the packed theater away (as to why, read my review). I'm 90% sure the Senator shed a few tears or that's what I would testify to in court, at least. And, this pundit? I'm not sure I've bawled my eyes out at Park City screening so much since attending the world premiere of “Precious.” Yep, it's not every screening that you find yourself wiping away the tears sitting next to the U.S. Senator from your home state.
(For those curious, she did say afterward that she loved it.)
Clearly, after winning both the Grand Jury and Audience Award and the reports over it becoming the biggest acquisition in the history of the festival (not exactly true) “Me and Earl” is in danger of being incredibly over-hyped. Truth be told, this level of buzz will always lead to negative reactions no matter what (it's called a backlash), but, trust me when I tell you that this one special movie. And now you can get your first look the critically acclaimed dramedy with the release of the film's first trailer which you can find embedded in the bottom of this post.
Are you sold yet?
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” opens in limited release on June 12.