It’s been over thirteen years since Matthew (Casey Affleck) and Nicole Teague (Dakota Johnson) first fell in love and got married. At the time, he was an aspiring journalist, while she was a musical theater actress. Matt wasn’t really happy in his job at the local New Orleans newspaper—he was annoyed by his coworkers, and his boss was only giving him fluff features to write rather than the more hard-hitting columns he deserved. However, Matt’s work eventually got noticed by some of the larger papers, and his career began to take off. He was heading off on assignments across the globe, covering wars and other topical stories—though this had caused some issues in his marriage, especially once he and Nicole had kids, and Nicole was often left to take care of them alone. To help the situation, Matt and Nicole moved to Fairhope, Alabama, to be closer to Nicole’s parents.
Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel) first met Matt and Nicole while he was still living in his mother’s basement. He had a crush on Nicole, and even asked her out, before discovering that she was married. However, Nicole, Matt and Dane became fast friends, and somewhat inseparable. Dane had dreams of becoming a stand-up comic, but he was a bit too shy and lacked confidence. Nicole would always look out for Dane, encouraging him to ask women out on dates, and to pursue his love of comedy. However, Dane wasn’t very lucky in love, and his temporary job selling sports equipment was turning into a lifetime career. After Matt and Nicole moved away, Dane kind of lost touch with the Teagues, and his life got into a bit of a rut. He was entering a really dark time in his life when his old friends randomly decided to reconnect, which helped him to get over his funk, and set his life on a more positive and promising path. That is, until the diagnosis.
Matt and Nicole’s seemingly-perfect life is suddenly thrown into turmoil as Nicole receives a devastating medical diagnosis. While the couple initially see an outpouring of support and concern from their friends and neighbors, this attention quickly wanes as their “friends” start to keep their distance, preferring not to be a part of such a sad situation. However, the couple receives some unexpected and much needed assistance from their old friend Dane. Just as things were starting to look up for Dane, he gets the news about Nicole, and decides to put his own life on hold, leaving his job and the first promising relationship he’s had in a long time behind to move in with the Teagues. He devotes all of his time and energy towards helping his friends and their family in their time of need, assisting with the children, the cleaning, and just being there as a source of positivity for Matt and Nicole. Dane becomes an integral part of their family, giving his unwavering love and support, and putting on a happy, brave face in a time of darkness and despair. Matt and Nicole were unknowingly there for him during a very dark time in his own life, and now he wants to do the same for his friends.
Our Friend is based on an emotional true story, as recounted in the National Magazine Award-winning 2015 Esquire article, “The Friend”, written by the real-life Matthew Teague. Matt tells the story of this devastating time in his family’s life, that was eased by the overwhelming kindness and generosity of their dear friend Dane. The story is one of friendship, grief, relationships, selflessness, and love. As the film constantly jumps back and forward in time (all time references are stated relative to “the diagnosis”), the film explores the friendship between this trio, how the Teagues are affected by and deal with the news of Nicole’s diagnosis, and how Dane shows up just at the right time in their lives. While the Teagues at first appear to have this picture-perfect life, the film slowly reveals and explores some of the rockier moments in Matt and Nicole’s marriage, and how the couple was able to overcome these obstacles.
All three of the main performances are really strong. At first I found Dane to be a bit of a sad sack and kind of creepy when we first meet him in the year 2000. However, over the course of the film he won me over, as we learn more about his life and how he is willing to give up everything to help a friend in need. Jason Segel really conveys both the humor and deep sadness in his character. You get the sense that this is a guy who really cares about his friends and will do anything, including putting his own hopes and dreams on hold, to help ease their pain. Here is a guy putting on a brave face for the family, trying to bring some humor into a dark situation, but deep down he is just as sad and depressed as they are. Nicole starts off as this happy and full of life actress who loves to entertain and be the center of attention, but as she becomes ill, she grows weaker, and the illness starts to affect her personality. Dakota Johnson does an excellent job of portraying this transition, making you fall in love with the vibrant, fun person she is at the beginning of the film, and feeling this crushing blow as you see her deteriorate and change. And finally, Casey Affleck also gives an emotional performance as this father who is trying to put on a brave face for his wife and children, but really just wants to break things, or bawl his eyes out as he sees this woman he loves change and slip away.
The film also includes some great guest appearances. One of these comes when Dane is at his lowest point, and he meets hiker Teresa (Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones) who recognizes the pain he is going through, and helps to motivate him to turn his life around. Another notable character is hospice nurse Faith Pruett (Cherry Jones, Defending Jacob), who has been through many situations like the Teagues’, and takes a calm, reassuring approach to the whole process. While she doesn’t mince words, she has a very soothing and reassuring demeanor that helps the family deal with their grief and pain.
Overall, I found the story to be a very engaging and emotional one, sometimes heartbreaking, sometime uplifting, though a bit too long, clocking in at over 2 hours. The constant jumping around in time was also a bit jarring and disorienting at times, leaving it up to the viewer to piece together the timeline, trying to recall which events came before others. Though there is a definite purpose for this mixing-up of the timeline, as it allows for a way to plant some seeds and mysteries that pay off later, such as early on mentioning to the viewer there was some infidelity in the Teagues’ marriage, but not revealing when or by whom until much later in the film. And so, this adds another layer and questions to some of the other relationships and events that pop up.
Our Friend has been released on both digital and DVD. These days, I almost exclusively watch things in 4K or HD, however, I still found Universal’s SD presentation on this DVD to be quite satisfying. There was nothing that felt lacking in the picture quality, which was generally clean and smooth, with a pleasant color palette and decent level of detail throughout. The audio track provided clear dialogue and made some use of the surround channel for the soundtrack or ambiance. However, there wasn’t anything particularly aurally remarkable that stood out while viewing the film. The DVD disc is packed in a standard DVD keepcase along with a slipcover. The release does not include a digital copy, but the disc does contain a 16-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast and crew.
- 480i / Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
- Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- Behind the Scenes with the Cast and Crew (16:18)
The cast and filmmakers discuss the story, the real Matt Teague, keeping the film honest and authentic, balancing the heavier moments with humor, what Dakota, Casey & Jason brought to their roles, and working with a director who comes from a documentary background. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, author Matthew Teague (Esquire Essay “The Friend”), and stars Dakota Johnson (“Nicole”), Jason Segel (“Dane”), Casey Affleck (“Matt”) and Denée Benton (“Charlotte”).
Our Friend tells a remarkable true story of love and friendship, and features some strong performances by the main cast. It utilizes a non-linear story-telling method that really works for some moments, but feels a bit jarring at other times. While the film runs a bit long, I still found it to be a satisfyingly emotional ride. Universal’s DVD release looks and sounds quite good, and includes a nice behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast and crew. It’s worth a look for fans of the cast, but may hit hard for folks who have lost a loved one.