“Mark my words: By the end of this year, Dane will be the last friend still here.”
In 2015, reporter Matthew Teague penned a personal essay for Esquire magazine, detailing the period of his life when his wife Nicole Teague was diagnosed with cancer that was ultimately terminal. Entitled, “The Friend,” Teague wrote about the supportive presence of the couple’s longtime best friend Dane Faucheux, who dropped everything to help his friends during their time of need.
Our Friend, based on Teague’s National Magazine Award-winning essay, arrives to select theaters and VOD this weekend. The film, which premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival originally as The Friend, was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Megan Leavey) and written by Brad Ingelsby (The Way Back). Starring an impressive trio of actors–Jason Segel (The End of the Tour), Dakota Johnson (The High Note), and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)–the film is a moving portrait of a friendship that goes above and beyond while facing an unimaginable crisis.
The film’s story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, starting with a heartwrenching conversation between Matt (Affleck) and Nicole (Johnson). They are discussing how to break the news to their two young daughters, Molly (Isabella Kai) and Evie (Violet McGraw), that their mother is dying. It’s an absolute gut punch of a scene, yet it sets the stage for the emotional journey that the film takes its audience on.
The film makes several jumps back in time–with helpful time markers–beginning with happier times in New Orleans, including the trio’s first official hang following one of Nicole’s performances. It’s also a moment that marks Matt’s big reporting break. Jumping to December 2012–the year Nicole was diagnosed with cancer–Dane (Segel) travels from New Orleans to Fairhope, Alabama, to take care of the girls while Matt is at the hospital with Nicole and discovers the overwhelming and disheveled state of his friends’ household. Recognizing that Matt could use some assistance at home, Dane offers to stay with the family and help out until they get back on their feet. What was initially thought to be a two-week stay, at the most, turned into over a year.
Throughout the course of Our Friend, we see the individual bonds that Matt, Nicole, and their kids each share with Dane. He’s a Swiss Army knife of sorts–he’s a sounding board, he provides a good laugh when needed (and will put the work in for a smile), he’s willing to have tough conversations, he plays silly games, and, maybe most importantly, he can tell when one of his friends is in need of a break–whether it’s from packing lunches or from each another. All the makings of a true friend.
When it comes to telling a story such as the Teagues’ onscreen, one needs talented, capable actors, and the film’s three leads more than fit the bill.
Affleck is pretty much in his wheelhouse, as these emotionally-heavy films seem to be where he thrives as an actor. (And his friend Oscar can certainly vouch for him.) His chemistry with Johnson, who delivers one of her strongest performances to-date, is evident throughout the film, but even more so during a vulnerable scene between the onscreen husband and wife. “I’m so ugly now,” Nicole tells Matt, explaining that no one looks at her anymore. Following a brief embrace, Affleck’s character recalls the story of how they met at a Burger Palace. He had asked her to show him around, since he was new in town. When she asked why, he responded, “Because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Affleck’s delivery–toeing the line between nostalgia and reassurance–as Johnson’s character weeps, is incredibly affecting.
Tying it all together is Segel. Known for his comedic prowess and not shying away from dramatic waters, he finds himself in quite the sweet spot with this film. As Nicole and Matt’s affable best friend, the actor was able to infuse the necessary sensitivity and seriousness as well as humor into his performance. Admittedly, it was really nice to see Segel’s beloved comedic side come out during the lighter moments of the film, from Dane entertaining the girls–”Call Me Maybe” sing along, anyone?–to distracting Matt in moments of stress. We haven’t seen Segel onscreen as much in recent years, but I hope this film is just the start of more to come.
Beautifully captured and deeply touching, Our Friend‘s portrayal of an unwavering friendship will have audiences reaching for the nearest box of tissues–and their phones.