“You’re not as alone as you think you are.”
Broader than a standard chamber piece yet more dialed back and refined than most dramas, Our Friend essentially starts at the ultimate end, if only to give us a deeper understanding of the tolls paid along the way by the people navigating these long and hard roads. We know it from the first few minutes; Nicole Teague (Dakota Johnson) has terminal cancer. Her journalist husband Matthew (Casey Affleck) breaks the news to their two daughters. Dane (Jason Segel), a great friend to both jointly and separately, sits in the screened front porch. He hears hyperventilating cries. It’s heartbreaking, entirely real, and sets a sad scene for a picture that’s both surprisingly humorous and studied in the ways one monumental life can affect those around them through their unwilling absence and premature departure. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie and cried from happy and sad emotions so evenly.
It’s so very organic how this trio meets; how these separate individuals become a small cluster of a tribe. Matt’s married to Nicole, who was previously hit on by Dane, unknowing of her relationship status. It’s a rough and rocky and awkward to start. But these are three incredibly vulnerable people, and once the shields are let down and their swords sheathed, a friendship is found waiting to blossom in multiple fields. Our Friend is so affectionate and warm in the way it depicts the many definitions of friendship. Sometimes, in this case, its with someone of the same gender. Other times is with a person of the opposite. And in the best cases, it’s with the love of your life. Those aren’t the limits by any stretch of the imagination, but Our Friend shows and understands what it means to be there in sickness and in health for those we hold closest to our hearts. The adoration here shows great coverage from every angle.
There have been questions about whether or not the film accurately depicts the real life circumstances judiciously. That’s a fair critique, and my biggest issue was with the structure of the script, which can feel more meandering than it does intentional with its choice throughout. But these are three bravado performances, and while I think Dakota Johnson nails the most difficult part, it’s hard to overlook the rawness of Jason Segel’s turn as the devoted yet depressed Dane. He’s loveable, affable, even pitiful at times. It’s so clear he identifies with this character, embodying him with so much empathy. We’re living in a weird time where people – friends and family alike – are so disconnected, and Dane serves as a vessel to remind us that interaction is vital. That a phone call or a text or a passing hello can literally be a saving grace. We’re all in this together. Through thick and thin and everything in between. That we inherently holds more weight than me.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Our Friend is both a tribute to and a subtle distillation of the human spirit. It’s uplifting, depressing, emotionally heartfelt and occasionally even hilarious. And while the picture lacks the depth to scar its audience permanently, it always provides a proper sting, and it might be even more in line with the tone and the temperature of the film that it’s more akin to a temporary tattoo; that object permanence extends to the soul of a human being. The questionably empty ending doesn’t leave an indefinite mark like I wish it might have, but so many of the moments before do, and they ebb their way out during a high tide of inward emotions. Our Friend sees and hears and knows the nadirs and zeniths of real affection in its many forms, communicating with uncommon grace what’s possible when love is the fuel source towards the light at the end of the tunnel, and how important it is to extend a warm hand as it is to shake the invitee with a cool one. Bill Withers said it best when he sang, “we all need somebody to lean on.” A friend in need is a friend indeed.
“Thanks for being here.”
Rating: 4 out of 5