Read this first. It’s the Esquire article on which Our Friend is based. The writer is Matthew Teague, a journalist who wrote an essay about the slow and painful death of his vibrant wife Nicole from ovarian cancer at the age of 36. Only the article wasn’t just about him and his wife; it was about their best friend Dane, a guy who put his own life on hold to help Nicole, Matthew and their two young girls get through their darkest days. It’s a story that is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once and will have you thinking about who your friends are, the types of sacrifices they might make in similar situations, and the type of friend you strive to be. This went way beyond a little cooking, babysitting or GoFundMe type stuff. Dane was all in, as a friend and caregiver extraordinaire. And when Nicole eventually succumbed to cancer, Matt was able to take a step back and see just how critical Dane was to his own survival.
Our Friend is probably the strongest male bonding tearjerker cancer movie with heart since 50/50 (2011), with shades of Beaches (1988) and Terms of Endearment (1983) thrown into the mix. I didn’t particularly like the narrative construct of Our Friend, but it does feature a trio of stellar performances from Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, TV’s How I Met Your Mother) as Dane, Academy-Award winner Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea) as Matt, and Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades franchise, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Suspiria) as Nicole.
The film was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (2017’s Megan Leavey – another movie based on a trueish story), and written by Brad Ingelsby (The Way Back – starring that other Affleck) who adapted Teague’s article “The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word” into a fullblown screenplay. That obviously came with certain challenges – most notably in structure. Our Friend flashes back and forth in time in an effort to capture the history of the relationships between Matt and Nicole, Nicole and Dane, Matt and Dane, and Matt, Nicole and Dane… with Dane firmly forever in the ‘friend zone’ and respectful of those boundaries, even if it hurt. The setting is primarily the Teague residence in Fairhope, Alabama (where much of the film was shot) with periodic flashbacks to their meeting ground in New Orleans, when Matt was an aspiring war/hard news reporter and Nicole was an actress doing musical theater. “The diagnosis” anchors the narrative – with on-screen text offering chronological context… 13 Years Before Diagnosis… Two Years After Diagnosis… One Year Before Diagnosis, etc. – but the timeline gets a bit burdensome to track. This is a film most worth watching for the performances and moving moments.
I read the article after I saw the film and I can tell you this: Despite its ‘R’ rating, Our Friend offers a far more sanitized version of the dehumanizing effects of Nicole’s cancer than what Matt Teague describes in his raw and heartfelt essay. But perhaps that makes the film a bit more accessible in these trying times. The film balances heart, humor, the horrors of illness, and the bonds of friendship in a way that makes it both a chick flick and a bro movie. So bring a tissue – and a hanky.
Our Friend is available in theaters and at home On Demand starting January 22.