Casey Affleck had some big shoes to fill when he followed his brother into acting. But where Ben traveled the blockbuster path after winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting and become an overnight action star, little brother Casey dug his roots into the independent film market (with only a few big-budget films to his credit). Over the years, Affleck has built a resume of modest, sincere melodramatic roles that show off his incredible pathos. For this reason, I haven’t seen many of Affleck’s films, as they tend not to be of interest to me. But due to the continued pandemic, there still aren’t a lot of films out there right now, so I figured I’d check out his newest film, Our Friend, and I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s earnest look into a man struggling to stay afloat as he witnesses the extreme heartache of cancer.
Based on the article “The Friend” written by Matthew Teague, Affleck portrays Matthew as a happily married man and aspiring writer stuck in a bit of a rut as a feature writer at a secondary newspaper. After getting a job at a major paper (and subsequently being turned into a war corespondent), Matt’s wife Nicole (Dakota Johnson) is diagnosed with cancer that quickly spreads and becomes terminal. As he attempts to do what he can to take care of her and their two young daughters, the couple’s good friend Dane (Jason Segel) moves in to help them where he can.
A movie like this, which takes a very personal and genuine look into the ups and downs of love and life, relies heavily on the core team of actors to make it work. Affleck, Johnson and Segel use a profound arsenal of subtly to deliver vibrant, honest performances; not once did I believe any of their journeys were fake or manufactured. It helps that the screenplay, written by Brad Ingelsby, is just as strong, providing a depth of character that the actors could play into and develop throughout the film in a realistic and passionate way.
One actor in particular to pay attention to is Isabella Kai, who plays Matt and Nicole’s eldest daughter, Molly. Kai may only be in her early-to-mid teens, but she has several television appearances to her name, and it’s clear with her performance here that she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Looking a lot like a relative of Abigail Breslin in her early years, Kai’s level of knowledge and talent is on par with the caliber of her more famous, veteran co-stars. When Nicole decides to tell their daughters that she is dying, Kai’s slow realization of this fact is the most heartbreaking moment of the film. As her emotion bubbles slowly to the surface and then explodes in an intense burst of tears, it’s hard not to feel every ounce of pain she’s enduring.
Where the film falters slightly is in the structure, which bounces back and forth from before the diagnosis to “present day”. It does work on a few levels — in some instances, revelations that would have otherwise been simply another note in the overall scheme if done lineally actually alter the storytelling in surprising ways, and the feeling that this is a story being told by someone whose thoughts are completely jumbled, make the film feel chaotic in a good way. However, because of this chaos, it becomes harder and harder as the film goes on to understand when certain events took place. Again, this works to show that what’s happening is deeper than a surface-level narrative and digs into the confusion of someone attempting to recall what happened after losing a loved one to something he had no control over, but this confusion makes it hard to compile your thoughts. Attempting to piece everything together gets in the way of completely losing yourself within the story.
Where this idea and structure comes into play the most is in the idea that this isn’t just about the love between a man and his wife. This film, this story, this journey is also about the love between friends and how that type of bond is just as important as the bond that forms between lovers. It’s in this unique friendship and brotherhood that both Matt and Dane are able to rise above the mundane and miserable aspects of what’s happening and find true meaning in who they are as individuals and partners.
It’s also important to know where one stands in this type of relationship; that just because you may be struggling, there’s always someone there to lift you up, to become your strength and help you discover the truth within your soul. This message wouldn’t have been as clear had it not been for the magnetic nuance that Affleck and Segel share. Together, they’re your typical friends, but alone, you’re able to connect to the desperation within each one of them and how much they need that source of companionship to carry them through to the next chapter in their life.
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy Our Friend going in, but I’m happy I chose to see the film. Even though the overall essence of the movie is sad and a bit depressing, as this type of melodramatic film always is, the film also has a strong heart that delivers an inspirational message of faith and friendship that is needed to live life to the fullest, no matter the darkness that may try to strip you of your love.
My Grade: A
Though the road trip that encompsses a third of the film comes off a bit hollow because of a lack of chemistry between the two leads, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is a sweet and heartfelt ode to what the majority of us take for granted: the mystery and elegance of the sound that surrounds us. A-
Next week, new movies include The Little Things and The Dig (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.