I was tempted to dismiss Our Friend as just another movie about a loved one’s battle with a fatal disease. Then I watched it. Yes, it’s a tearjerker, but it’s derived from a first-person article from Esquire that won the National Magazine Award. It has three exceptional performances—by Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck, and Jason Segel. And it illuminates the reality of how a woman’s bout with cancer affects everyone around her, altering her relationships, both casual and crucial. Real life can be messy.
By jumping back and forth in time, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby keep us alert to the ever-changing status of the main characters: Johnson is a radiant woman who shares her gift of caring with a circle of friends as well as her husband and two daughters. Affleck is a devoted spouse whose journalism assignments take him away from home far too often. And Segel is his loyal friend who channels his thwarted love for Johnson into positive action. When he sees that Affleck can’t handle the demands placed upon him, he moves into their home and stays, making himself indispensable.
I don’t want to reveal more details, the better for you to discover the salient observations that Matthew Teague (played by Affleck) offers in his candid article and this adaptation. (He is also an executive producer of the film.) Just when you think you’ve got the situation all figured out, there’s something else brewing… all of it credible, much of it ignored by other superficially similar movies and TV shows.
How actors immerse themselves in portrayals of so-called ordinary people and bare themselves for the camera is beyond my comprehension. Affleck has done this more than once. Segel and Johnson have never impressed me as they do here. I shouldn’t ignore the young actresses who costar, Violet McGraw, Veda Joy Martin, and Chandler Head. And let me add kudos for Ridley Scott, whose Scott Free Productions casts such an admirably wide net over film and television, embracing everything from daring documentaries to this lovely film.
Our Friend is now playing in theaters and on VOD.