Review by Sean Boelman
Crowd-pleasing dramas are a dime a dozen, and so they often come and go without making much of a splash. The cancer drama Our Friend may not be the most spectacular film, but it will avoid that anonymity thanks to good central performances and a gentle hand from both the writer and the director.
The movie follows a couple who, facing a life-changing tragedy, are supported by their friend who moves in to take care of their family. Based on an Esquire article, the film hits a lot of the familiar beats of the cancer melodrama, but it does so in a way that is unexpectedly warm and tender, bringing a much needed hopefulness to a typically bleak genre.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest issue is that it is structured so inconsistently. Although the film never feels incoherent, it cuts between timelines in a way that isn’t necessary. The storyline about the three main characters becoming friends is sweet enough, but it doesn’t add a whole lot beyond some basic character development and makes the runtime feel a bit bloated.
The movie does a great job of exploring the central relationships, but there was also more room for it to grow. Apart from one or two scenes, the film doesn’t really do anything with the characters of the children. There are also some other supporting characters that aren’t fleshed out at all.
One of the strongest aspects of the movie are the performances from Jason Segel and Dakota Johnson. Segel, in particular, is excellent, giving a turn full of humanity and subtlety that plays into his typically friendly type. Johnson is also very good, although her role is a bit more straightforward than Segel’s.
Admittedly, the film doesn’t have anything particularly new to say. The emphasis is on finding hope and love in the midst of tragedy. There is a lot of false profundity in the script, in which it seems like Brad Ingelsby thinks he’s saying something meaningful but is really just exercising empty poeticism.
The movie is mostly strong on a technical level. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s directorial style may be straightforward, but it isn’t as sentimental as her previous narrative film or one would expect of the genre. Cowperthwaite allows the performances to take the spotlight, and as a result, it resonates.
Our Friend is disorganized and arguably even a bit too long, but it still manages to be significantly better than a majority of the movies in the genre. For the most part, it’s a quiet, empathetic take on well-worn tropes.
Our Friend hits theaters and VOD on January 22.