By Lynn Venhaus
In darkest times, you remember who stood by you, was there for you. Based on a true story, “Our Friend” shows how rare and special unconditional friendship is, with earnest performances from Casey Affleck, Jason Segel and Dakota Johnson.
Matt Teague (Casey Affleck) is a journalist and father of two young girls whose wife, Nicole (Dakota Johnson), has terminal cancer. While living in Fairhope, Ala., the family comes to depend on their friend, Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel), who has put his own life on hold to help.
While living in New Orleans, Nicole becomes involved in community theater, where she meets Dane. Her husband Matt and Dane bond as bros, and he becomes a part of their lives, even after moving to a small Alabama town and starting a family.
In 2012, Nicole is diagnosed with cancer, and thus begins a heartbreaking journey until her death, at age 36, in 2014.
The film matter-of-factly depicts the overwhelming demands of coping with a life-altering situation and terminal illness.
The three actors are sincere in their performances and convey the ups-and-downs of life’s curves. It’s tough material, no matter how one approaches it, with a tendency to be maudlin. The sweet and sentimental moments of friendship help smooth the harsh reality of a vibrant young person’s early demise.
Matt Teague was a consultant and executive producer on the film, and his Esquire magazine article, “The Friend,” is the source material for the screenplay. The article won the National Magazine Award. Screenwriter Brad Ingelsby, who wrote “The Way Back” among other Ben Affleck films, captures ordinary people well.
However, the film is hindered by its choppy narrative approach, moving back and forth between the timeline.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, a longtime documentary filmmaker whose 2013 feature “Blackfish” won much acclaim, takes a realistic approach but it needed smoother transitions.
One character that needed more screen time was hospice nurse Faith Pruett, played by the wondrous Cherry Jones.
Still, the film is thoughtful and engaging. “Our Friend” reminds us of the importance of being there for the people we love.
“Our Friend” is a 2019 biographical drama directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson and Jason Segel. It is rated R for language and runs 2 hours, 4 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B-, In theatres and on Video on Demand Jan. 22.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.