Monday, January 18, 2021

Our Friend: Movie Review

Effective comedy and drama, unnecessary time jumps.
I get what Our Friend is trying to do: a weepy cancer drama that is not about a person dying of cancer but about the positives that a friend can bring while a person is dying of cancer. But the film does itself no favours with the constant time-jumps. Instead of setting itself apart, it’s brought down by unnecessary disorder that doesn’t add anything to the story.   2019

Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Screenplay by: Brad Ingelsby

Starring: Casey Affleck, Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson

The characters are well constructed. Our three main friends are interesting, funny, sympathetic people that can keep the audience invested in the story. Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and Matt (Casey Affleck) are a young married couple. She’s a local theatre actress, he’s a writer, and they apparently have unexplained income sources that afford them the ability to live a very comfortable life without working for years. Dane (Jason Segel) was in a production with Nicole, asked her out, and then found out she was married. Nicole thinks he’d be a great friend but Matt hates him without having met him. Nicole was right.

Images courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

I would say they quickly bonded, but there are so many time jumps all over the place, that you don’t get a clear picture of how things evolved. They just do. Nicole and Matt have two daughters, they love Dane who definitely spent much of his adulthood living on Nicole and Matt’s couch. Their other friends make fun of the situation, but Nicole and Matt genuinely like and appreciate having Dane around. Dane doesn’t have much else going on in his life.

Years later? While the film does label the various years it occupies, the natural inclination to put things into chronological order makes it easy to overlook the year card and focus on where the story is currently at. Anyways, Nicole is diagnosed with cancer and at that point Dane was living in New Orleans with a girlfriend but a minimum wage job that could be easily thrown away. He drops everything to be with Nicole and Matt. As weeks turn into months, Dane’s girlfriend visits very confused as to how and why Dane just put his life on hold. He’s not the one with cancer. She literally asks, “What kind of person leaves their life behind to go help out a friend?” Dane has the correct answer, “A good friend.” Luckily, he doesn’t care to find out what type of person would ask such a stupid question in the first place.

The film takes place in Fairhope, Alabama. A real, small city that is not New York, Chicago or California. I appreciated that small gesture to the millions of us who don’t live in movie towns. It also gave an accurate impression of small cities – there are things to do (local theatre) and neighbours will care and you will be able to find people to help you but for the most part people will go about their own lives while cancer shakes yours to the core.

Our Friend is about Segel’s Dane and his friendship with both Nicole and Matt. It’s a nice and enviable friendship, with moments of humour and anger. It’s well acted and the natural evolutions between comedy and drama work well, but it’s also a very light story that is needlessly drawn out with endless time jumps.