PG Score: 7.75/10
Our Friend opened in theaters on 1/22/21 and is now streaming
Our Friend is a moving piece of filmmaking that captures both the devastating toll cancer takes on a family and the extraordinary lengths a friend goes to ease their burden.
The story centers on the Teague family before and after Nicole (Dakota Johnson) is diagnosed with cancer and highlights the support given by their best friend Dane (Jason Segel). The premise originates from a 2015 Esquire article written by Matthew Teague (Casey Affleck), and the fact that the movie is based on a true story only enhances the emotional charge it carries.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) skillfully takes the fact-based framework and builds an intense drama that pulls at the heartstrings early and often. The two-hour runtime moves at a deliberate pace but never drags. While many of the scenes linger to maximize the sentimental impact, they rarely overstay their welcome. The screenplay from Brad Inglesby helps in this arena as the dialogue maintains an authentic feel from beginning to end.
The portrayal of the overwhelming suffering that Nicole and the Teague family endure occasionally verges on excessive. In those instances, it is important to remember that this is a real story about real people. Very little (if any) is played up for theatrical effect because it does not need to be. The reality Our Friend depicts is sad enough as is. In fact, the degree of pain Nicole was experiencing, and the extent of the care Matt provided, was actually scaled back for the screen. His article goes into much greater detail and touches on aspects the adaptation either glosses over or avoids altogether. It is a fantastic read and an important companion piece that is best read after seeing the movie.
There is an abundance of heartbreaking moments, but the film contains plenty of uplifting sequences as well. Most of these examples involve Jason Segel’s Dane and his commitment to the Teagues. Cowperthwaite shows the full range of his acts of devotion, including everything from spending time with the children, making meals, constant cleaning, to moving into their home to be better equipped to assist. Realizing Matt and Nicole are unable to do it on their own, Dane puts his own life on hold to help them in every way possible. This incredibly selfless decision makes for an engaging film partly because it is conveyed in such a believable manner. The fallout from his choice manifests in his circle through unfulfilled romantic relationships, loss of job security, and familial scrutiny. Part of what makes Our Friend so honest is it excels in covering all angles of Dane’s resolute support, not just the positive ones.
The acting department is where Cowperthwaite’s latest outing really shines. The three leads are sensational, and their work propels an otherwise good movie to the next level. Dakota Johnson showcases the range she is capable of and delivers an impressive performance in arguably her most difficult role to date. She masterfully displays the broad spectrum of emotions that someone living Nicole’s nightmare can be expected to undergo. Casey Affleck is magnificent as her husband, Matt, and once again proves his dramatic expertise. His powerful screen presence allows the relatively subdued character to leave quite a lasting impression.
The standout is undoubtedly Jason Segel, who gives the best performance of his career. As Dane, the actor does an excellent job of demonstrating the significant transformation that occurs. Throughout the deterioration of Nicole’s condition, his character reacts in corresponding fashion and Segel mirrors this decline with remarkable ability. He does provide some familiar comic relief (though infrequent and properly placed), but his acting in the serious portions is truly something to behold.
A Nonlinear Issue
The one glaring flaw that holds Our Friend back is the nonlinear format it employs. The plot casually jumps between past and present at an alarming rate. It is especially irritating when it is leading up to a significant development in the present, only to revert to a past event just before the revelation. This distracting technique substantially weakens momentum and serves as a repeated reminder that Cowperthwaite and Inglesby should have adopted a chronological approach.
Despite a frustrating storytelling structure, Our Friend still makes proficient use of its poignant source material and phenomenal cast.