Three years ago, Jesse Andrews wrote a book about a self-aware, outcast teenage boy who changed a cancer-stricken girl's life. That book was not titled "The Fault in Our Stars," though it did have the misfortune to be published at roughly the same time as John Green's young adult juggernaut, leading some to believe that Andrews' work, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," was a reaction or corrective to Green's book.
"It became clear that no one would be able to write about my book without writing about that other book," Andrews said from his Boston home. "Which I felt ambivalent about, as anyone would."
For the Record
April 25, 4:23 p.m.: This story says that Fox Searchlight acquired "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" for a reported $12 million. The film was acquired by Searchlight in a partnership with Indian Paintbrush in a deal placed in the mid-seven-figures.
Let's be clear, though. He's not that conflicted. That's because the movie version of "Me and Earl," which Andrews also wrote, debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival to a strong mix of cheers and tears, winning the festival's grand jury prize and audience awards. The enthusiasm continued after the standing ovation ended, with Fox Searchlight ponying up a reported $12 million — a Sundance record — for the film, which opens June 12.
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Though "Me and Earl" revolves around a terminal illness, Greg, the young man at its center, couldn't be more different from "Stars'" (overly?) devoted boyfriend, Augustus Waters. No flawless flirt, Greg (Thomas Mann) visits high school classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) only because his mom forces the issue.
At school, he tries to fit in with all the cliques, if only because flitting among them renders every relationship superficial. He can't even acknowledge that his friendship with Earl (RJ Cyler) means anything more than a shared love for art-house movies, which the two remake with a decidedly adolescent boy flavor. (Among the titles in their 42-film oeuvre: "Eyes Wide Butt," "My Dinner With Andre the Giant" and "Pooping Tom.")
"I felt like I hadn't seen a character like Greg in teen fiction, someone who was very honest, probably too much so," says Andrews, 32. "He has a little bit of Larry David in him. He lacks a filter."
The movie Greg grows more as a person than the character does in the book, mostly because Book Greg possesses an almost abject fear of lesson learning. Neither Greg bears much resemblance to Andrews' own adolescent self, outside of the Pittsburgh setting (the movie used his childhood home, where his parents still live) and a penchant for juvenile humor. (Andrews will happily tick off the list of remakes that didn't make it into the movie, including "Throwup," which is basically Michelangelo Antonioni's existential masterpiece "Blowup" — "except about barfing.")
As "Me and Earl" stands as his debut as both a novelist and a screenwriter, Andrews knows he has a hard act to follow. His parents joined him at Sundance and, after returning home to Pittsburgh, they reported finding themselves drifting around the house, hearing the movie's Brian Eno score playing in their heads.
"It might not ever get better than that," Andrews says, laughing. "Definitely not more surreal."