I’m not a man afraid to cry. Even still, it takes a special movie to bring me to tears. Some easy examples: “The Lion King”, “Marley & Me”, “Avengers: Endgame” as well as the underappreciated fantasy film “A Monster Calls” which has a lot in common with the newest film to get my tears flowing, “Our Friend”. “Our Friend” is a dramatization of the Esquire article “The Friend: Love is Not a Big Enough Word” by Matt Teague (which you can read here) where he discussed his relationship with his best friend Dane who moved in with him to help care for Matt’s dying wife Nicole. Matt and Dane are played by Casey Affleck and Jason Segel respectively while Nicole is played by Dakota Johnson. While the film has received some flack as a shmaltzy representation of the grieving process and a couple’s struggle with the impending end of life, I found it to be an incredibly moving tearjerker and one of the most emotional viewing experiences I’ve had in quite a while.
“Our Friend” Presents its story in stages as a nonlinear narrative, shifting between past events to help show the origin of the relationship between Matt, Dean and Nicole as well as the relationship dynamics prior to Nicole’s cancer diagnosis. It then switches back to show Nicole’s deteriorating condition and the struggle Matt and Dean endure to help her through her final days creating a neat juxtaposition between happier and simpler times and the inevitable end of Nicole’s time on this Earth. While much of it is heavily dramatized it never feels over the top. The relationships feel sincere while also having a certain awkwardness to allow the character’s to breath and remind us that even while Dean is a good friend and support system he’s not the cure for everything Nicole and Matt have to face. Segel to me is the highlight performance of this film as he plays Dean with an interesting confidence but also a overarching insecurity. Dean is a man who is going out of his way to help his friends through a pretty traumatic time of their lives but we also see he doesn’t have his own life figured out. He’s not a saint, he’s just a good-hearted man doing what he feels he has to do. Segel makes Dean lovable and kind, but also relatable and flawed in his own ways.
I know Casey Affleck went through a lot of public scrutiny for his personal life after winning his Oscar for “Manchester By the Sea” but I’m not here to judge his performance based on who he is as a person. I may not agree with Mel Gibson and Kevin Spacey as people but they’re both good actors and Affleck is in the same boat. I say that because his performance in this movie shouldn’t be ignored. Affleck is great at playing these depressed, lost types and his portrayal of Matt is one of his best roles to date. He presents Matt as a broken man who has fought for control of his life in the past but now that control has been taken away from him because of a disease his wife got purely by chance. He’s vulnerable, he’s angry, he’s frustrated and those emotions permeate Affleck’s performance while never degrading him to be a bad person. His counterpart Dakoda Johnson reminds us all that her talents are not defined by her turn in “50 Shades of Grey”. Her take on Nicole gives us a heartbreaking interpretation of a mother scared to leave behind her husband and daughters but also seemingly at peace with her fate. Later on we see her bring to life the deterioration and harsh truths of late stage pre-death cancer and it’s downright terrifying and uncomfortable to watch, but it feels like something we need to see that helps punctuate the struggles that Matt and Dean face and why Dean being there to help Matt through it is such a blessing.
And that brings me to the core of this story. This is a tale about not just friendships but the emotional impacts of loss and the grief that doesn’t just follow that loss but can also predate it. I remember when my grandfather was dying of cancer in 2006. I was a high school senior and I watched the strongest man I knew become a shell of himself. A lot of what I went through was captured in this movie and while I leaned more on family then friends the value of the emotional support was the same as what Matt receives from Dean. While the realities of cancer and loss might be hard to watch for many, that’s what makes this film so beautiful. The best movies can capture truly human experiences with tact and taste and while it does take some liberties to add drama to the narrative, I personally feel like “Our Friend” does justice to it’s characters’ struggles both together and as individuals. Beyond that though I was shocked how relatable I found these people to be. I spent the whole movie wondering if I could ever be as strong as Dean but also feeling blessed that a film is willing to teach men that it’s okay to be vulnerable and ask for help like Matt. I related to these men in so many ways and by the end of the film I was crying tears of joy, hope, and sadness. I felt it was a great emotional rollercoaster providing a sad but honest look into an all-too-common scenario many families and loved ones have to cope with and it’s something no one ever expects or can possible prepare for.
“Our Friend” is a film that will probably live with me for years to come. My opinions of it may be a little biased as I lived through a lot of the things presented in the movie, albeit at a younger age than the actual people portrayed and the relationship I had with my grandfather was obviously very different. But that’s one more beautiful thing this movie teaches us, that while these kinds of struggles might have unique effects on those going through them it’s important to remember you are not alone. Just as a side note I did read the Esquire article that this movie was based on and I feel both do a fine job capturing what this experience was like and how the friendship between Matt, Dean and Nicole helped them all through a very tough time in their lives. The actors do a great job providing us with relatable, emotionally complex characters that remind us that men can cry, the best of us are still not perfect, and that asking for help and giving help can be some of the most rewarding things you could ever do. It also reminds us that, sadly, death is inevitable no matter how fast it creeps up on us so making the most of our limited time is extremely important. Some might find it either too extreme or watered down, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that “Our Friend” is a memorable true life story I won’t soon forget.