Starring Dakota Johnson, Jason Segel, Casey Affleck, Cherry Jones, Jake Owen, and Gwendoline Christie
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written by Brad Ingelsby
Runtime: 125 minutes
Unrated, but contains scenes of brief nudity and coarse language
Now available via premium digital and on-demand
"Mommy’s going to sleep ... going on vacation ... going away for awhile.”
Those are the key phrases that Matt (Casey Affleck) reads aloud at the beginning of Our Friend, phrases that are meant to be avoided when talking with the children about his wife Nicole's (Dakota Johnson) terminal diagnosis.
If you didn’t know that you were going to be watching a movie about a young woman dying of cancer, the script doesn’t waste much time diving right into it. While the couple talks inside their bedroom about the tough family talk to come, their close friend Dane (Jason Segel) – the titular Friend – is outside with their kids keeping them entertained. Dane has practically been a part of this family for more than a decade, and now their relationship is being given the ultimate test. As Nicole's health deteriorates and Matt needs more and more support around the household, Dane steps in as a kind of caregiver to be there for all of them through the most difficult time in their lives. He takes care of the piles of dishes, washes the piles of clothes on the floor, makes beds and more.
It's a pretty incredible thing to do. What's even more incredible: it's all true. Gabriela Cowperthwaite's new film is based off of the real Matthew Teague’s National Magazine Award-winning article that was originally published in Esquire Magazine. Real friends indeed. It's advisable to bring multiple handkerchiefs.
While the tale starts at that tough moment, the full story is told with repetitive flashbacks to flesh out the development of the unique relationship. At first, Johnson's Nicole is the nurturing, supportive college friend to Dane, and tries to play matchmaker for him since he's such a great guy. She encourages him and her husband to become buddies, which they do. What wasn't planned was how integral Dane would become to the cogs of the family machine. He wasn't just a reliable babysitter, as is patently obvious. He holds down the fort.
It's pretty difficult to imagine being in that situation. Our Friend does play heavy (as it must) and the wonderfully gifted Affleck and his exquisitely pained expressions do much to contribute to the pathos of the proceedings. His facial anguish and exasperated tears fully translated the rampant emotions for the audience though I couldn’t help but feel like he was phoning in most of his performance. To be frank, I think he and Johnson both were hired for their naturally crackly voices, not for their expert emoting.
This is really Segel’s show. Better known for his comedic work, there’s a soul there and this fine actor really proves his mettle handling the heavy lifting. He's no longer a Freak nor a Geek, so watch for more seriousness and less goofing around from this diamond taking shape out of the rough.