Film Review: Our Friend

by Director Gabriela CowperthwaiteGRAVITAS VENTURES
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri

Our Friend
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

ANCHORED BY three deeply moving performances, the shattering Our Friend looks at the life of a young wife and mom, Nicole Teague (Dakota Johnson), as her cancer diagnosis upends not just her family’s life but that of Dane (Jason Segel), a best friend to both her and her husband Matt (Casey Affleck). Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and adapted by screenwriter Brad Ingelsby from Matthew Teague’s award-winning 2015 article, the film focuses partly on the remarkable bond shared by these three people.

For Dane, a kind, awkward man with vague ambitions of becoming a stand-up comic but little in the way of determination or drive (and with his own share of struggles with depression) the desire to be there for his friends at the worst of times gives him purpose. Other good friends drift away as Nicole’s condition worsens, but Dane stays—helping out with everything he can, taking care of the couple’s young daughters, and serving as a steadying influence for his friends. Even as Nicole’s situation becomes unbearable, Dane’s loyalty feels like a beacon—not for survival perhaps, but for the goodness and kindness that is still out there in the world.

The film is told out of sequence, in fragments: It opens on the night that Nicole and Matt chose to tell their daughters that mommy is not going to make it, and then shuffles around to show their lives before the diagnosis as well as the years in between. This not only serves to prepare us as viewers for the grim outcome of Nicole’s illness—the movie would have been downright unbearable had the story been told in linear fash- ion—but it also shows the struggles of life before cancer.

We see the affair that briefly tore Nicole and Matt apart. We see Dane’s bouts with depression and failure, and the time he came close to taking his own life. The illness may make such challenges seem mundane, but in the world of these people, we see that they most certainly were not. That is a remarkable achievement for a picture like this: To immerse us in multiple timelines, and to make us feel present with what’s happening on screen, even if we know how things are going to turn out. Our Friend is a heartbreaking movie, the tears come early and they come often, but it’s not without hope.

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