The first real surprise of 2021, "Our Friend" is a wonderful testament to the power of love, family and friendship. But grab the tissues.
"Our Friend" is based on a 2015 Esquire article by Matthew Teague called "The Friend." It's a story about Teague's own life (portrayed in the film by Casey Affleck) as his young wife, Nicole (Dakota Johnson) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. But what makes this film unique and unlike the slew of other "cancer" films of its kind, is that it focuses on a close friend of the Teague's, Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel), and the sacrifices that he makes in the name of friendship.
Casey Affleck has faced some PR issues lately, following his Oscar-winning turn in 2017's "Manchester by the Sea." Despite his off-camera problems, he's one of the most effective actors of his generation and his skills are on full display as the soft-spoken Matthew Teague. His ensemble is up to the challenge, and Dakota Johnson has never been better, nor has Jason Segel, an actor who is silently carving out quite the dynamic career (his performance in 2015's "The End of the Tour" was equally award-worthy). The three carry the film, with impressive supporting performances from child actors Isabella Kai and Violet McGraw, who play the Teague daughters, Molly and Evie, as well as supporting performances from Gwendoline Christie, Cherry Jones and Marielle Scott.
Films like this often lead towards an inevitable conclusion, but "Our Friend" effectively shifts around its timeline so that the film itself isn't an intensifying death-march. There are several moments of levity and much-needed humor between the three, and the film never feels inauthentic or melodramatic. We learn that Dane needs Matthew and Nicole just as much as they end up needing him, and with the story focusing on Dane's unique relationship with the couple, it feels like an angle in which we've never seen this type of story before.
When the tears do come, they're not manipulated, but will fall freely and naturally. Cancer is the absolute worst, but for those of us that it doesn't claim, it only presents terribly difficult life-lessons that at first seem insurmountable. But somehow, someway, we find ways to live on, relying on family, friendship and the bonds between us.
As cancer is something that has touched almost all of our lives, it's impossible that "Our Friend" won't strike a cord with nearly everyone. This is a top-notch drama that might be met by an audience that doesn't quite think they'll want to watch such a "downer" of a film, but "Our Friend" is anything but a downer, even though it stares death in the face and tackles some heavy emotions head-on.
"Our Friend" is not a movie about dying. If anything, it's a call to celebrate life.
Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Gwendoline Christie, Casey Affleck, Jason Segel, Cherry Jones.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Megan Leavey," "Blackfish").
"Our Friend" is available on Friday, January 22nd, 2021.
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