‘Our Friend’: A man, his dying wife and their invaluable pal, all played by actors we believe
Jason Segel stars as the directionless dude who comes to the aid of his old buddy (Dakota Johnson), in health and especially in sickness.
They come bearing dishes. Casseroles and lasagna, baked sweets and mystery entrees concealed in ready-to-heat dishes.
They don’t want to come inside because they don’t want to wake you up in case you’re resting; they’ll just leave the dish with a handwritten note outside the front door and scurry back to their lives, because they’re healthy and you have cancer and they don’t know what else to do so they come bearing dishes.
Gravitas Ventures and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment present a film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Brad Ingelsby, based on an Esquire article by Matthew Teague. Rated R (for language). Running time: 126 minutes. Opens Friday in theaters and on demand.
The gentle, two-boxes-of-tissue tearjerker “Our Friend” is filled with scenes like the aforementioned, scenes that ring true for anyone who has had a serious illness or had a loved one with a serious illness, and that’s just about all of us, isn’t it?
In Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Our Friend,” based on an Esquire magazine article written by Matthew Teague, we witness many a familiar scene from the cancer movie blueprint (see “Love Story,” “Terms of Endearment,” ”The Fault in Our Stars,” et al.), from the noble patient who just might beat this thing but then suffers a setback to the loving friends and family members who are sometimes overwhelmed by everything but feel like they can’t complain, to the flashback sequences when life was relatively carefree and light, to the final farewell, which gets us every time.
What’s unusual about this tale is the Third Wheel element.
Dakota Johnson’s Nicole Teague has been close friends with Jason Segel’s Dane since their college days, and Nicole’s globe-trotting journalist husband Matt (Casey Affleck) has also become best buds with Dane, a likable, self-effacing, directionless, lumbering guy who resembles a cartoon character come to life and has never quite found his footing. Nicole and Matt have two young daughters and Matt’s work can be all-consuming, so when the devastating news comes that Nicole’s cancer has spread and she has only months to live, Dane offers to move in and help out in any way he can — and the Teagues leap at the offer.
Days turn into weeks turn into months, and the huge-hearted Dane is there every step of the way, whether he’s helping the girls get ready for school or clinking beers with Matt and offering a sympathetic ear or listening to Nicole, who bears her burden with great dignity and strength but is prone to the occasional meltdown, as any of us would be.
It’s all very lovely but just a little bit … odd. Dane is like a nicer and much more helpful version of that slacker guy who represents a supposedly inferior wireless service in those TV commercials. He’s ALWAYS there. Of course, as Dane put his life on hold, we know this experience — tragic as it is — will make him a better person and provide the clarity and purpose that have always eluded him. This is a Learning Journey.
With the sometimes-intrusive score reminding us this is a sad but also uplifting story and the visuals heavy on sun-dappled splendor, “Our Friend” occasionally goes overboard on the sentiment. But thanks in large part to Segel’s huggable-bear persona, Affleck’s typically steady work and Dakota Johnson turning in perhaps the most impressive performance of her career, the laughs and the tears feel quite real.