Originally shown back at film festivals in 2019 under the name of The Friend, newly renamed Our Friend is finally getting a full release in the US, and hopefully a UK one soon to follow.
I was lucky enough to catch it back at London Film Festival in 2019 and see it again this week ahead of awards season. Based on a magazine article written by Matthew Teague, it tells the story of his wife’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, and the friend that helped them through.
Utilising a non-linear narrative, we flash throughout moments of time before and after diagnosis, to get a greater picture of Matt and Nicole’s marriage as well as their relationship with Dane. This structure allows for much-needed variety in the film, adding levity into the plot at key moments. Elements such as Nicole hiding the true extent of her illness to visitors to the point of exhausting herself for days afterwards are hyper-realistic, but it also contains tropes such as a bucket list and leaving letters from beyond the grave that I find particularly grating. Being that this is based on a true story, I have to take them at their word, even though these sorts of moments often feel unrealistic to me. Whilst the film is too long, it does allow for extra background into our characters. A trek sequence involving Dane before the diagnosis is especially wonderful and so well handled, with Gwendoline Christie being a delight.
Our Friend has a lot of similarities to films you’ll have seen before, in tone, visuals and sounds, but Jason Segel’s performance as the titular friend is what makes it stand out above others. His command of the screen, gentle kindness and chemistry with all the cast are outstanding and hold the weaker elements of the film together. Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck give strong performances, though the chemistry between the pair never completely comes across. The young actresses playing their daughters, Isabella Rice and Violet McGraw are excellent, with Rice being a standout. Towards the end of the film, we are also introduced to nurse Faith played by Cherry Jones, whose introduction is handled incredibly well.
I’ll end this review by being open. I lost my father to a similar type of cancer over 5 years ago and was with him during the final days and hours. Those memories are hard to discuss and at times even hard to recall. But there were elements within Our Friend, clearly taken from the very honest magazine article, that echoed exactly the moments I had lived through, even down to losing a family pet to cancer during the experience. I found watching Our Friend (on both occasions) cathartic and therapeutic, allowing me to unbottle and let go of so many moments of terror and shame I had shelved away. Someone with different experiences, or even someone with the exact same experience as mine, may feel differently to how cancer and its repercussions are portrayed in the film. To me, it was like memory.
The film is definitely still a Hollywood sanitised version of cancer, it doesn’t fully show the horrors and indignities of cancer and death in the ways described in Teague’s original essay, however it is able to highlight the everyday mundanity that families are forced to live through when their lives are falling apart. Far from perfect, by the end, it still manages to capture so much of the cruel reality of long endless goodbyes and the torture of it all.
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