Our Friend

Directed By Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Starring – Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck

The Plot – After receiving life-altering news, a couple (Affleck, Johnson) finds unexpected support from their best friend (Segel), who puts his own life on hold and moves into their family home, bringing an impact much greater and more profound than anyone could have imagined.

Rated R for adult language

Our Friend | Trailer | In Theaters & On Demand 1/22 – YouTube


– Magnetic ensemble. The work of the trio of Segel, Johnson, and Affleck each bring these characters to life tenfold, and offers plenty of moments between them for each to shine. For Affleck, it’s the empathy delivered from a character who is at the end of his rope for being the head of a household that is falling apart at the seams. We feel immense weight not only in his responsibilities, but also in the sternly dry deliveries that he unloads on an opposition, bringing forth an emotional evolution that boils slowly to suffocating levels of anger and grief. For Segel, he is once again the comic relief, but his role as Dane equally fleshes out a dramatic underlining that not only further cements his dramatic range, but also helps in illustrating the complexities of a character whose life has been put on hold to help his two best friends. Surprisingly, however, it’s Johnson who steals the show, combining the familiarity of her charisma with the physicality of a role that quite literally transforms her before our very eyes. Her character constantly grapples with the inevitability of an impending gloom that hangs over this family like a cloud, and thanks to the riveting and often times heart-wrenching turn from Dakota, cements what I feel is easily her single best work to date.

– Hefty themes. This is a film that juggles an abundance of meaningful topics throughout a two hour run time, and even with a framing device that doesn’t offer complimentary consistency for momentum with a disjointed manner, still somehow finds a way to work in the plausibility of each theme that it’s conveying. Aside from the many angles of grief, which the movie delves into with as much varied depth as any other film about it that I’ve seen, it’s also about the values of friendship, the perils of loneliness, and the inevitability of a life unfulfilled that occasionally has us questioning the selfless approaches that we take in our own lives. It proves that this movie has a lot to say about the human condition and evolving psychology, but also supplants it with an air of caution that springs forth in the responsibility of its storytelling, which does value friendship, but equally values self-preservation.

– Tonal transitions. It’s easy to label a film like “Our Friend” as a compelling drama for the way it continuously tugs at the tears, and gets under the skin of its audience, but there’s an equally intriguing attention paid to humor that keeps this experience from ever feeling miserable. For my money, it’s some of the best written humor that I have heard in a slice of life film in quite sometime, and the reason is the way the dialogue feels authentically shaped for a trio of friends instead of a cinematic playwright. There’s a stripped-down, easily identifiable way that each line feels conjured from a particular character, as well as a patient flow between characters that resides within the structure of conversations that don’t always flow on a firing cylinder back and forth. Neither the humor nor the drama undercut the meaning of the other, and the many transitions along the way toward a film supplanting an abundance of each consistently feels earned whenever it calls on one or the other.

– Delicate direction. I knew that this film was based on a true story, but was surprised to find that it wasn’t that of Coperthwaite’s, who unravels her narrative with a combination of respect and sensitivity that would easily be overlooked with a lesser director. Gabriela clearly articulates the meaning of love, loss, and friendship accordingly, documenting the persisting presence of one friendship alongside the blossoming of another, and by the end of the film it sort of redefines the meaning of the word family as being the ones we always call upon when times are at their bleakest. In addition to this, Coperthwaite doesn’t sacrifice entertainment factor in favor of the slice of life she cuts so delicately, keeping audiences hooked by the mention of particular plot points and possible twists that we don’t find clarity to until much later in the narrative. She very much values the poignancy of real life with the consistency of film, and crafts a touch with her direction that feels so important to her that it might as well be autobiographical.

– Visual intimacy. That term isn’t taken lightly when encasing what about this film’s cinematography is so complex and appealing, despite its schemes feeling so simplistic. Much of the compositions are visually conveyed in these close-knit, handheld angles and presentations that not only resonate the claustrophobia of the inevitability that this family is constantly engaged in, but also illustrated vividly with a glossy texture that breeds the sentiment of memories being told in a past tense. It offers an immersively surreal circumstance to filmmaking that wields such an impactful measure on the film’s minimal production values, and proves the evolution of cinematographer Joe Anderson, whose many diverse jobs and responsibilities on film’s like “The Giver”, “Trainwreck”, and “The Old Man and the Gun” have brought forth a visual storyteller with no shortage of life influence to play toward the film’s true story.

– Detailed decay. Dakota Johnson’s Nicole is transformed before our eyes with a combination of subtle make-up and prosthetics designs that zero in on the consequences of her condition without it feeling like a wet blanket of obviousness that unintentionally removes audience attention from the heart of the scene. With regards to the former, there’s a lot of dark shadowy eye color used under Johnson’s eyes, which speak volumes to the kind of sleepless, suffering experience that we’re hearing and seeing with her committed performance, but only understanding its toll on this woman because of the valuable work of production that makes it evident. In addition, the variety of wigs that Nicole wears throughout are diverse enough to channel the passing of time for scenes before cancer, yet exotic enough in color and style to understand when they are artificial. It doesn’t fully render Johnson indistinguishable, but does do a credible job at presenting her suffering with the most of its subtleties, and deserves appreciation if only just for not caking on the color.

– Meandering-free. With most contemporary melodrama’s, they typically run the risk of being meandering or manipulative in controlling the emotional resonance of their audience. That changes for “Our Friend”, however, as the movie’s dramatic muscle consistently earns its abundance of gut-punches that it wields over the command of its audience, doing so without a musical score from composer Rob Simonsen that audibly spoon-feeds what those listening are meant to feel. It’s a screenplay that almost entirely has its heart in the right place in terms of its priorities and character justifications, and just when you’ve shed a tear or feel like the tension between scenes feels a bit too damp, Coperthwaite’s continued control inserts some light-hearted fluff at just the right time, to remind audiences to breathe.


– Non-linear storytelling. One of the two most popular storytelling schemes in contemporary times is one that flashes back and forth between the past and present. If this was between two respective timelines, it would be fine enough, but this movie contrasts between as many as five or six respective time frames, which renders it a bit confusing to remember where this particular event fits in place between the rest. The movie knows this too, that’s why it supplies on-screen text that repeatedly says “Since the diagnosis” or “Before the diagnosis. When your own movie has to explain things, you have trouble in the most convoluted essence of the problem. The device itself doesn’t feel like it adds anything compelling or remotely unique to the justification of its consistency, and unintentionally renders a majority of its material predictably bland when it focuses a bit too heavily on an element to the environment that should’ve been nothing but a passing afterthought.

– Too long. There are a few scenes from this two hour film that I would omit from the finished product all together, or at the very least trim in length because of the number they do on the movie’s pacing. This led to a few instances throughout the film where I either grew disinterested in the redundancy (Especially in the third act) of the screenplay, or became frustrated because of the contrast in time devoted that cut other scenes abruptly. One such instance involves an argument early on that is halted mid sentence just when we think we’re going to learn something about a particular event from the past. This is obviously to cater towards the frustrating framing device, which I previously mentioned, but is all the more frustrating when you consider the contrast of scenes drawing on too long, and only repeating the same information. This film could easily be 100-105 minutes, and it would lose nothing in translation. Failing to do so supplants us with a bloated finished product that includes too much along the way.

– Inconsistencies. I find it funny with a story that takes place over the course of twelve years with none of its characters visually aging before our eyes. A pass can be given for the three main stars, as they are in the adult years of their evolution, but the two children in the movie don’t change so much as a haircut or hair color over the course of the years that pass through the arc of their story, leaving me with a screaming break in the immersive spell that this movie wants to keep us in through multiple decades. In addition to this, the house that a majority of the story’s setting takes place in never shifts its furniture, nor slightly adjusts its decor to similarly represent the passage of time, even clumsily keeping certain paper on the fridge throughout the various time shifts that the story takes. Even for a film with as much positively going for it as “Our Friend” has, it can’t escape these few occasional trip wires, where gravity gets the best of them, or maybe it’s that they get the best of gravity considering the lack of aging. Either way, it’s sloppy.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

5 thoughts on “Our Friend

  1. Very well written review. Being that I do not watch many movies, this one is also a little outside my rush to see. However your positives are huge and a telling sign this would be a good movie. I am not turned off by the time lines for your negatives simply because it means I have to be sure my attention is on the film. The length I agree would be a turn off for most movies, simply because this type of movie to me has a hard time keeping me involved. But as always greatly thought out review and eloquently written details put me at the “you missed your full-time calling”. Your way of words would easily transfer to an author or movie writer, which if you could find a way to bring your attention to detail and knowledge to the screen it would surely be awesome to behold.

  2. This is a movie I wouldn’t have thought twice about. After reading your review I might just have to check it out. I’ve always kind of liked Dakota Johnson as an actress and to hear you say this could be her single best work to date really peaks my interest. I love a good drama and having that added humor here and there is a perfect mix for me. Thank you for another great review! I look forward to reading more.

  3. This has been one review I have been waiting for you to do. My husband has already said I will probably cry through this whole movie. I really liked your review. I have to say I am not a fan of when a movie or show jumps back and forth between different times, so I will definitely have to pay attention to that. Otherwise you can be completely lost and not know what’s going on. I will have to know what I thought of it after I have seen it.

  4. I am exited to see this. I was worried it was going to be a total waste of time but after your review I’m hopefully it may be decent.

  5. I thought about going to go see this when I saw that it was playing in theaters and the fact that I love all three main actors. However, I wanted to see your opinion on it first and clearly it’s well worth checking out. I love how intimate, delicate, and emotional you describe it which sounds to me like it could be a really good tear jerker which I honestly really like. Any film that manages to elicit such a raw reaction out of a moviegoer or a critic is clearly worth watching even if it does have issues. The five to six respective time frames in the storytelling has me slightly worried but I might end up checking it out due to your excellent analysis!

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