Gravitas Ventures’ Our Friend is based on the award-winning article “The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word” by journalist Matthew Teague which shared with the world his wife’s battle with cancer and lessons learned as he struggled to deal with the impact of her diagnosis. Teague’s very personal story is told in a non-linear fashion, a choice that makes it unnecessarily confusing to follow. Despite that odd narrative decision, Our Friend still manages to weave a poignant tale of friendship, love, and loss.
In the film’s first few minutes we’re made aware Nicole’s (Dakota Johnson, Suspiria) battle with cancer is nearing its end. She and Matthew (Oscar-winner Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea) have come to the difficult decision it’s necessary to share the devastating news with their two young daughters, Evie (Violet McGraw) and Molly (Isabella Kai Rice). Both children are aware their mom’s sick but are unaware that her passing could be just a matter of days away.
From this emotional opening, the film jumps around over 13 years in the couple’s life, chronicling the beginning, middle, and ultimate end of Matthew and Nicole’s relationship. It also charts the dedication of the couple’s affable third-wheel, Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother), a friendly, compassionate, and unshakably loyal friend who commits to assisting the entire family through Nicole’s terminal illness. Without Dane, it’s unlikely Matthew would have been able to handle the stressful situation and keep his family intact.
Dane’s life is such that packing up and moving in to help care for Nicole, Matthew, and the kids is a relatively easy decision. He puts his life on hold to become a pillar of strength, as well as a sounding board, for the Teague family as Nicole’s health continues to deteriorate.
Dane’s the figure referenced in the movie’s title and the story’s heart and soul. It’s when Jason Segel’s involved in what’s happening on screen that Our Friend genuinely clicks. While their friends consider Dane to be clingy and a bit of a loser, Segel’s performance doesn’t jibe with either of those descriptions. Matthew and Nicole treat Dane like an adopted member of the family, and Segel portrays him as selfless, empathetic, and unconditionally supportive.
Dane’s so likable and interesting that Nicole and Matt’s story exists in his shadow and pales in comparison. It’s possible to connect more fully with Dane while Nicole and Matt as a couple just aren’t as engaging. A lot of that disconnect can be attributed to the disjointed way their story is laid out. That, and the fact Casey Affleck’s Matthew doesn’t evoke the sympathetic reaction necessary given his circumstances.
Dakota Johnson does a better job of providing insight into the couple’s relationship. But, again, skipping around and sampling moments out of order from the relationship’s timeline doesn’t allow a solid connection.
The story’s not so confusing as to require notes but is confounding enough to be a distraction and diminish the impact of this heartbreaking yet hopeful tale.
Directed By: Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Megan Leavey, Blackfish)
Screenplay By: Brad Ingelsby (Run All Night, Out of the Furnace)
MPAA Rating: R for language
Release Date: January 22, 2021 in theaters and On Demand
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes