Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 2019. Black Bear Pictures, STX International, Scott Free Productions. Screenplay by Brad Ingelsby, based on the article The Friend by Matthew Teague. Cinematography by Joe Anderson. Produced by Michael A. Pruss, Teddy Schwarzman, Ryan Stowell, Kevin J. Walsh. Music by Rob Simonsen. Production Design by Cara Brower. Costume Design by Alan Morshead. Film Editing by Colin Patton.
Journalist Matthew Teague’s account of losing his wife Nicole to cancer was documented in an Esquire article, focusing his attention not on himself or his late spouse but on their friend Dane Faucheux, who came to live with them during Nicole’s last days. Their story is turned into a touching and sincere tearjerker by director Gabriella Cowperthwaite, who does such a great job of eliciting sympathetic performances from her main cast that screenwriter Brad Ingelsby’s decision to present the story in a fractured timeline, flipping back and forth between good times and bad out of sequence, feels like unnecessary creative overkill. In their better days, Nicole (Dakota Johnson) enjoys a career as an actress, often working with Dane (Jason Segel) and assisting him in his helpless love life after his own overtures to her fail (thanks to his not having realized she was married). He meets her husband Matt (Casey Affleck), and the three become very close friends, their connection tested but not severed when the couple leave New Orleans and move to Alabama to be closer to Nicole’s family. Years later, Matt and Nicole have had two kids and their marriage is strained by infidelity and Matthew’s work taking him away from home for lengthy periods of time, then Nicole becomes ill and Matt finds himself overwhelmed trying to see to her needs while keeping his home life going. Dane, at a low point in his own life at an uninspiring retail job, thinks nothing of driving across state lines to help out for a few weeks, which turns into months and makes him a permanent fixture in the Teague home; the film could stand to go a bit deeper in its examination of Dane’s motivation, for while giving the more familiar soap opera of a plagued marriage the nuanced treatment, Dane’s becoming a generous caregiver in this unhappy household is treated with kid gloves. Dane’s commitment to his friends is to be truly admired and appreciated, but the complicated fact is that he really had nothing better to do, which the actor seems to understand has both its good and bad sides but which Cowperthwaite, likely fearing being disrespectful to the real life Faucheux, avoids dealing with except to have it discussed by characters who the script designates as villains (the girlfriend who just doesn’t get it, the douchy college friend who keeps opening his big trap). It’s in this conflict that the film purports to have as its dramatic focus (it’s called Our Friend, after all, not My Late Wife) but it steers away from any discomfort over his presence and instead places the emphasis of conflict on Johnson, whose illness turns her from a complicated wife and devoted mother into a mess of drug-induced rages and sorrows (with a suspiciously healthy looking face except for a dark bag under each eye). For whatever it might lack for depth and despite its not actually going for the originality it seeks to establish, this film’s central relationship is one that takes us on a satisfying journey, and has an overall feeling of heartfelt sincerity that only a cold heart could resist being moved by.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2019