Disclaimer: Gravitas Ventures provided me with a screener of Our Friend before its release.
Until the end of Our Friend, I had no idea that the film was based on an article published in Esquire in 2015 and was even less aware of the film before the trailer. That’s a long way for me to say that my knowledge of the story behind this film being almost zilch. Based on some things I’ve heard from people who have seen the film, I seem not to be the only one not familiar with Matthew Teague’s story.
Why do I mention my unfamiliarity with the source material? Well, in a story so personal, I think it would be remiss not to mention it. That, and the film almost expects you to have read the article and memorized all the critical details mentioned. In one scene, we could be two years after Nicole’s diagnosis, and the next scene could be set in the year of her diagnosis. I would generally be okay with the film skipping back and forth, but the way the film’s timeline works breaks my brain every time I think about it.
The best part of the film is the cast. Matthew (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) are a picture-perfect couple with two daughters (Violet McGraw and Isabella Rice) living in Fairhope, Alabama. Nicole is an actress at a local theater, and Matt is a journalist. However, life has other plans. Nicole is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, “the silent killer” of too many women in America. As her cancer progresses, their mutual friend Dane (Jason Segel) moves in during the final year of her illness to help the two out during the most terrifying year of their lives.
Affleck outdoes his Manchester by the Sea performance here, showcasing this broad range of emotion that anyone who’s about to lose the love of your life to something you can’t do anything other than to watch their soul fade away and at the same time trying to be a good father to his two daughters. The same could be said for Dakota Johnson’s performance here. What Johnson is doing here is subdued for much of the film’s runtime, but Johnson is given a lot of runway to act how a person who is powerless to stop her own death or be there when her daughters get married. She gets angry at her situation and cries when she feels like she’s being forgotten. Jason Segel, though, is probably the star of the show here. He’s mainly Segel, but there’s a segment in a desert where we truly learn why Dane is helping Matthew and Nicole, and I think that the insight we gain and what Segel does with his performance from that point forward is one of the most heartbreaking studies in how our friends just want to be there for us, even if it’s to their own detriment.
Another highlight of Our Friend is Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s direction. She is able to trust her cast & crew to play with a scene until it feels right, and I think that’s what makes the film even watchable. There’s this general feeling that Cowperthwaite read the article and immediately started to pursue ways in which she could translate the personal stakes to a feature film. She treats these characters as if they’re her own family, which in turn makes the viewer care about their journey throughout the film without really having to do much on a story level.
On a story level, I think this is one of the crucial points in which the film fails on a monumental scale. Not once did I understand the bigger picture of the story that Brad Ingelsby is trying to tell here. The way in which his script is structured jumps around in the timeline of Nicole’s illness in ways that don’t make sense. I’m generally okay with non-linear storytelling, but here, no two scenes connect together. There is no realization that is had at the end of the film, nor at any point in the film. The film wants us to have this moment where we collapse on the floor, crying our eyes out, but the screenplay never provides it.
Unfortunately, the editing doesn’t provide much clarity on the big picture either. Once the article makes its way into the narrative of the film, I was left scratching my head towards what it meant. I had to search out the article and still received no closure.
Our Friend is a well-acted and directed film, but I do think the $20 rental price may drive many away. If you’re willing to spend the dough, you’ll be treated to some masterclass acting and direction in a film, just know you’re going to have to do your homework after the credits roll.
Our Friend is now available to rent on the video on demand platform of your choice as well as in select theaters.