Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Premise: Based on true events. Matt Teague (Casey Affleck) is a writer whose wife (Dakota Johnson) is a cancer patient. Their mutual friend Dane (Jason Segel) moves in to help the family.
What Works: Our Friend is a cancer movie. This disease is a popular topic in dramatic movies and it can sometimes be used cheaply as a way to wring sympathy and sentiment from the audience. But Our Friend is a better example of a cancer story. It grapples with the gravity of the illness and the difficulty of treatment without becoming sentimental. Our Friend isn’t really about the disease but about the relationships between its three principal characters; the cancer brings them together and these people are defined by the way they react in the face mortality. Our Friend has three very strong performances from lead actors who are perfectly matched with their roles. Casey Affleck plays Matt Teague, a writer whose career takes off and he is sent across the globe chasing stories but his absence strains his marriage. Affleck has specialized in playing temperamental and exhausted characters as seen in pictures such as Manchester By the Sea and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and Affleck does an excellent job externalizing this man’s grief and frustration. Dakota Johnson plays Matt’s wife Nicole who is stricken with cancer. Johnson has a calm but aloof demeanor and those qualities fit a woman facing mortality. Jason Segal plays Dane, a friend who becomes an addition to the family. Segal is often cast as anxious or wounded nice guys as seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The End of the Tour and Segal is quite good in Our Friend. Of the three leads, Dane goes through the most dramatic personality change and Segal masterfully gages his performance.
What Doesn’t: Our Friend uses a non-linear narrative structure. It opens near the end of the story, then goes back to the beginning, and then zigzags around the timeline throughout the middle of the picture. This organization works for Our Friend insofar as it allows narrative detours and fills in the character’s backstories, especially Dane’s, in ways that would not work in a strictly linear narrative. However, the filmmakers leap around the timeline a little too much for their own good. The story becomes too fragmented. It’s generally clear where events occur in the timeline and how they relate to one another but the temporal shifts don’t always have obvious cues.
Bottom Line: Our Friend is an exceptional piece of filmmaking. Although it is a cancer drama, the movie has much more going on than that and Our Friend showcases a trio of impressive performances in a complex story about friendship.
Episode: #849 (May 2, 2021)