If you’re not “that” friend to someone, you might want to rethink your relationships.
In “Our Friend,” we get to meet someone so unselfish he moves in and helps a couple through the wife’s last days. It’s a real gut punch.
Jason Segel stars as Dane, the unassuming store clerk who decides to move in and help out when bestie Nicole (Dakota Johnson) is diagnosed with cancer. He sees how overwhelmed she and her husband, Matt (Casey Affleck), are and figures he can handle mundane tasks, tend their daughters and make the transition a bit easier.
It’s a magnanimous gesture that shows just how devoted some people can be.
To understand the mindset, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite offers glimpses of the trio at different stages in their lives. Dane starts as Nicole’s theater friend, then morphs into Matt’s sounding board. The three do plenty together before her illness becomes the tie that binds.
Matt, an ambitious journalist, often puts work before family, which causes friction. Dane eases the tension, befriends both and fends off snark from outside sources.
When friends question his motives (singer Jake Owen plays a particularly blunt neighbor), Dane shrugs them off; Nicole and Matt ignore the chatter.
Cowperthwaite hints at Dane’s lack of purpose but she never shows Nicole and Matt returning any favors. At times, he’s like hired help.
And that’s where “Our Friend” cracks. Because it’s not an upbeat film, there’s little to celebrate – even Dane’s selflessness. When the final days arrive, they’re almost impossible to watch.
Affleck fares best in the equation. He reacts the way most would, has a fuller life and isn’t just a cog in this wheel. Johnson’s role could have been played by any number of actresses.
Segel, though, does everything he’s asked even though “Our Friend” somehow doesn’t wind up as “his” film.
Cowperthwaite borrows bits from other, better end-of-life films (there’s a nod to “Terms of Endearment”) and attempts a back-and-forth time shift that “This Is Us” has perfected.
It’s a noble story of friendship that’s affecting. It’s just not always effective.