Movie Review: Our Friend

It’s in times of crisis when you find out who your friends really are. That’s what happened to Matt Teague when his young wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with cancer back in 2012. After she passed away two years later (that’s not a spoiler), he penned an essay entitled, “The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word”, about their best friend Dane Faucheux, who went way above and beyond what most friends do in such times. The essay, which was published in Esquire in 2015 and earned Teague a National Magazine Award the following year, has now been turned into a film, simply entitled OUR FRIEND.

The film follows Matt (Casey Affleck, LIGHT OF MY LIFE; MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), Nicole (Dakota Johnson, THE HIGH NOTE; THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON; BAD TIMES AT EL ROYALE; SUSPIRIA; the FIFTY SHADES trilogy) and Dane (Jason Segel, THE END OF THE TOUR; TV’s HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) from the time when Nicole and Dane were in Theatre together in university and Matt was working as a reporter at an Alabama newspaper to Nicole’s death 13 years later. During that time, Matt and Nicole had two girls, Matt worked for a few different national publications and Nicole dabbled on stage. Dane, meanwhile took a low level management job at a sporting goods store in New Orleans, tried his hand at stand up comedy and had a few relationships with women that didn’t go anywhere. When Nicole got sick, Dane dropped everything and came to live with the Teagues for three weeks. That stretched into two years as he pitched in anywhere and everywhere to keep Matt and the girls sane while Nicole was getting sicker by the day.

Not surprisingly, OUR FRIEND is a tear-jerker, and not just because audiences get to watch a character die over the course of two hours or, as my colleague put it, in real time. It would be fair to call Dane a saint, giving himself to his friends without question day in and day out, and keeping the toll it took on him to do that all to himself. Screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (THE WAY BACK) and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (MEGAN LEAVEY) capture the large brush strokes of Teague’s essay here but, unfortunately, they chop it up into 15-minute or so vignettes and mix them up so that the story follows a zigzagging timeline that can get a bit confusing especially when it comes to Dane’s story arc. Is he still with Kat (Marielle Scott, LADY BIRD) or maybe he hasn’t even met her yet? Is he working at the sporting goods store or maybe he hasn’t started there yet? Adding to the confusion is that the two girls don’t age a day when the timeline goes in either direction. Teague’s essay also contains a rather detailed description of his wife’s cancer and what it does to her body. Thankfully, none of that is shown in the film because it’s pretty gruesome; however, Ingelsby and Cowperthwaite may have sanitized her condition slightly too much because audiences really don’t get a feel for how devastating it must be have been for all of them. The closest they come to showing us something is toward the end of the film when Nicole becomes a paranoid schizophrenic due to the all the medication she’s taking (off-screen). The biggest issue I have with the film, though, is that the story is supposed to be about Dane. He should be front and center yet, too often, the story deviates away to subplots that have very little or nothing to do with him. Yes, we know Dane didn’t have much of a direction in life. Do we really need to see a ten-minute dinner party scene where Matt and Nicole’s friends slag Dane or that there was some infidelity in Matt and Nicole’s marriage?

To its credit, though, all the performances are solid with Segel doing most of the heavy lifting. Cherry Jones (A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK; TV’s TRANSPARENT and 24), who plays hospice nurse Faith Pruett, enters in the film’s final act like an ace baseball closer, sealing up a victory (albeit a bittersweet one here) for the good guys. We need to see more of her on the big screen.

OUR FRIEND premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019 and, after a brief festival run, has been sitting on the shelf waiting for the pandemic to end. It’s now rolling out around the world this week. It opens in our cinemas in Hong Kong on Thursday. Even with its story problems, it’s still worth seeing but remember to bring along plenty of hankies. Be sure to read the essay afterward too.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 26th, 8:30 am HK time!

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