A trio of thirtysomethings have been best friends for years. Married couple Matt (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) have two young daughters, while their longtime pal Dan (Jason Segel) is one of those guys that seems like an underachiever to others, but has a heart of gold that shines through. A shocking diagnosis throws them all into a loop when Nicole finds out she has terminal cancer. When visiting Dane visits to find Matt swamped under the pressure of caring for his wife, his daughters, and home, Dane drops everything to help out for “a couple weeks”. Maybe to everyone’s surprise except their own, those weeks turn into many long months, as Dane stays and becomes part of the family during their difficult and horrible transition.
This may not sound like a crowd pleaser, and indeed it is a tough watch at times. But Our Friend is a surprisingly warm and human story of friendship, the type that doesn’t often get portrayed in movies. This guy does not fall on a sword for his chosen family, which would be more traditionally cinematic. Instead, Dane is a guy that weighs what is important in his life and quickly and easily makes a choice. His sacrifice is nothing when he weighs how he could literally make his life more useful on a very personal level. If everyone could be so lucky to have such a friend to lean on!
The trio of performances, especially by Affleck and Segel, are wonderful, flawed, and real. There is a point where Nicole’s personality has become altered by her sickness and medications, and she verbally and physically lashes out at Matt. He literally crumples to the kitchen floor just as Dane intervenes, allowing Matt to scurry for physical and emotional self-preservation. It’s a stab to the heart, especially knowing how many people don’t have a buffer as they see their loved ones deteriorate from illness into someone they don’t recognize.
I admit, Our Friend is a tough watch. I lost both a longtime friend and my father to cancer, one slowly and one quickly. It is the type of illness that you almost wish to go quickly for all involved. Our Friend doesn’t flinch at the prolonged suffering that some people (and their close family and friends) go through. I will say that it does avert its eyes from the awful physical deterioration–Dakota Johnson’s Nicole simply continues to look beautiful if a little wan. But if the movie really wanted to be realistic, no one would watch it, so it is hard to fault the filmmakers. (Apparently the original magazine article by Matt Teague (on which the film is based) is more unflinchingly graphic.) Instead of the horror, we get to focus instead on a family getting infused with the extra support and love that they need, when it really counts for all sides. In these times of horrific losses, relationships and sacrifices like these are something to admire and respect.