I don’t like to classify myself as a critic, because I think there’s a certain connotation that comes along with that term. In the eyes of general audiences – and even some filmmakers – critics can be too analytical and pretentious and not give some movies the attention or praise they deserve (just ask Malcolm from Malcolm & Marie).
But the purpose of writing this isn’t to bash critics. It’s to praise the movie Our Friend. For about the first half hour of this two hour movie, I was noticing a few problems with the filmmaking technique: the way the story was presented was confusing and meandering at times, the editing was awkward, and the pacing felt off. But nonetheless, it was doing a good job of making me care about the characters.
The film, which is based on a true story, follows Matt and Nicole Teague (Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson) as they try to cope with Nicole’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. With a busy life and two young daughters, it all becomes too much for Matt to handle on his own. So their best friend Dane (Jason Segel) moves in with them indefinitely, or at least until Matt can get back on his feet.
What follows shows the harsh realities of life mixed with the beauty that we can bring to it if we intentionally try. The movie jumps around in time between moments when Nicole is healthy and their relationship is thriving and when her health is beginning to rapidly deteriorate. A bit of whiplash can accompany all the jumps in time (director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is no Christopher Nolan or Greta Gerwig), but it’s not enough to totally invalidate any and all emotions that are invoked.
Because if there’s one thing that this movie does well, it’s make you feel and care deeply. Part of it certainly is the inherent dread that comes with anyone in their early thirties succumbing to an awful disease, but I don’t want to take credit away from the movie where it’s due.
The three main leads, Affleck and Segel in particular, are excellent. It’s hard to sell a relationship where a single man and a woman around the same age are platonic friends, but this movie does it. Because at its heart, this movie is about friendship. It touches on the fleetingness of life, parenting, and marriage dynamics, but its core idea is to explore what it means to be a friend. Affleck doesn’t often get to be a soft and caring character – he in recent years he’s played more cold and closed-off characters – but adding those aspects to his repertoire here really elevates the movie. And Segel, who doesn’t appear in as many movies as I’d like him to, brings the same inviting warmth that made him the best character on How I Met Your Mother.
Dane drops everything to be with his friends when life is at its toughest and later on, we find out that they were there for him at his lowest points. The movie just does a great job at hitting on those moments that make life and friendship what they are, even if its technique could use some work.
And that’s why I started this off by talking about film critics. If my job was simply to convey the movie’s merits on a technical level, then this would probably be a very boring piece of writing. Instead, i’m here to tell you that this movie moved me on a number of occasions and incited genuine moments of personal introspection. By the end, I found myself wanting to reach out to those I love and tell them how important they are.
I want to allow myself to be taken over by the emotion of a movie and let the subjective experience happen. Are there ways to re-edit Our Friend into something that’s “technically” better? Sure. And that movie might garner an even stronger emotional reaction from me. But despite its deficiencies, I still found it moving, enjoyable, and praiseworthy as is.