THE STORY – After learning that his terminally ill wife has six months to live, a man welcomes the support of his best friend who moves into their home to help out. His impact on the whole family is much greater than anyone could have imagined.
THE CAST – Dakota Johnson, Gwendoline Christie, Casey Affleck, Jason Segel & Cherry Jones
THE TEAM – Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Director) & Brad Ingelsby (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 124 Minutes
By Dan Bayer
Matt Teague’s wife has cancer. It’s terminal. She doesn’t want to tell their children until the end is right around the corner. Matt doesn’t know what to do with himself, his children, his wife, or his house. So when the couple’s best friend Dane extends his visit to stay and help full time, he accepts it. As Dane’s stay goes on longer and longer, the lines between friendship and family begin to blur.
The true story of the Teagues was originally published as an article in Esquire magazine and has now been adapted to film by screenwriter Brad Ingelsby and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (heretofore best known for the documentary “Blackfish”). Ingelsby and Cowperthwaite have taken a less-is-more approach to the story that avoids melodrama wherever possible and keeps the story feeling as real as possible. It became a labor of love for all involved in making it, and that love is felt in every corner of the frame. It’s there in the lived-in mess of the Teague home, in the soft, clear cinematography by Joe Anderson, and especially in the performances.
Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson, as Matt and Nicole Teague, create a marriage that feels not at all perfect, but good. Even when they’re not fighting, you can tell that they have fought in the past, that it hasn’t always been as easy-going as their chemistry and rapport make it seem. No one is better at charting a depressive breakdown than Affleck, and as if that needed more proving after his Oscar win for “Manchester By The Sea,” he delivers another excellent performance here as a man struggling to keep his grip on as much of his life as possible. Johnson continues to put the lie to the idea that she cannot act with a perfectly modulated portrayal of a woman constantly battling between hope and despair, no matter how effortlessly happy she seems. And then there’s Jason Segel as Dane, putting in his best dramatic work yet as a feckless man who finally finds a calling, in perhaps both the worst and best place imaginable. He is effortlessly charming and a pillar of graceful strength as he bears the brunt of the worst nastiness from his best friends. His placid demeanor belies the roiling emotions underneath, and Segel’s body language in the moments when Dane is alone say everything that words cannot.
This is all subtle, strong work, and for better and worse that is the hallmark of “Our Friend”. Emotions may run high, but the film never reaches for drama, trusting that the underlying emotions of the situation are strong enough to be present throughout and that there is no need to underline anything. This can sometimes come across as plainness, and while the film has an emotional impact, it feels muted, and slightly unsatisfying. It gets tears, but those expecting an overflowing of emotion won’t find it here. Which is most likely for the best; played at a higher, more nakedly emotional pitch, the film would be exhausting, an emotional endurance test. But instead, the film plays like a love letter to both a woman the world lost too soon, a woman who may not have had an “important” life, but who was incredibly important to the people who knew her, as well as the man who stepped in where support was needed, even if he was unsure if he could provide it, because he knew that this was where he needed to be. And that feels exactly as they would have wanted it, making “Our Friend” a perfect tribute, if an imperfect film.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A strong central trio of performances and well-modulated tone.
THE BAD – The non-linear structure doesn’t help the film, which hits all the right emotional beats but doesn’t quite connect as strongly as it could.
THE OSCARS – None