(2021) (Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: With their life upended by a bad medical diagnosis, a family leans on their best friend who puts his life on hold to help them.
While their marriage has had its ups and downs, Nicole (DAKOTA JOHNSON) and Matt Teague (CASEY AFFLECK) are facing the toughest challenge of their lives. And that's a cancer diagnosis for Nicole, something they've shared with their daughters, Molly (ISABELLA KAI RICE) and Evie (VIOLET McGRAW), although they've kept the dire outlook from them.
But their longtime best friend, Dane Faucheux (JASON SEGEL), is fully aware of that and puts his life on hold as he moves from New Orleans to Fairhope, Alabama to help any way he can. As that plays out, we witness the trials and tribulations of their friendship and the couple's marriage over the years.
- OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I've known people who've died in an instant -- from a heart attack or aneurysm -- and others who've endured months and sometimes years-long illnesses -- such as cancer and ALS -- before passing away.
And I have to say that when it's my time, I want to go fast and hopefully without even realizing it. Yes, it's hard on those left behind -- what with no time for goodbyes or getting things in order -- but the long, drawn-out process often simply seems like cruel punishment from a variety of standpoints ranging from emotional to financial.
Granted, some people and processes can make option number two slightly more bearable, such as the help of friends, religion, and organizations like hospice. The same holds true for movies about end-of-life moments that, understandably from a plot aspect, usually choose the slow rather than speedy departure.
Those can include the same helpful things as in real life, but also in storytelling and directorial flourishes that often lessen the impact of fictional characters going through life events most if not all of us have likewise experienced.
Case in point is "Our Friend," a well-made, engaging, and emotionally moving offering based on a true event. Its story bounces around through time, not only to break up the monotony and predictability of the usual A to Z throughout of so-called "disease of the week" offerings, but also to mitigate or offset some of the sad moments with happier or at last non-cancer-related scenes from the "before times."
It's based on Matthew Teague's 2015 Esquire article "The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word" where the author detailed the prolonged dying of his wife, Nicole, and their longtime friend, Dane Faucheux, who completely put his life on hold in New Orleans to move in with the besieged couple and their two young daughters in Alabama and help them in any and every way he could.
Working from screenwriter Brad Ingelsby's adaptation of Teague's prize-winning article, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite throws viewers directly into the maelstrom of Matthew (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) tearfully deciding that now is the time for them to tell their two girls, Molly (Isabella Kai Rice) and Evie (Violet McGraw), that their mom is dying and doesn't have long.
The girls are waiting out on the front porch with Dane (Jason Segel) and the look on his face when he subsequently hears them wailing from the news is pretty much all we need to know about him, the overall situation, and where things sadly are likely headed. But there's more to his and their story, and that's doled out to us via various flashback scenes.
Labeled by the rough date and the elapsed time before or after the initial cancer diagnosis, the scenes from past and present come and go, jumbled together like fleeting memories associated with a long-running traumatic event. That works in that context, but also in drawing in the viewer to the characters (the excellent work from all involved in front of the camera certainly helps) and their plight.
I obviously can't label this as a "feel good" terminal cancer film, but it's crafted and executed in such an imaginative but thankfully not showy way that it comes off like a cinematic spoonful of sugar to help make the uncomfortable parts go down. Showing the benefits of unconditional love and friendship, "Our Friend" rates as a 7 out of 10.
Reviewed January 17, 2021 / Posted January 22, 2021
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