Starring Jason Segal, Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson, Gwendoline Christie, Cherry Jones,
Just when you think you have had about as much cancer drama as you can stand, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s latest pivots to a different perspective. Aptly titled, “The Friend” is a film about that friend we all wish we had who gives up everything to help his best friends through the most difficult event in their lives. Selfless sacrifice is where the film ends up, but you have to go through a lot of out of order context via flashbacks and melodramatic plot devices to land on the film’s eventual message. Try as you might, “The Friend” will reduce even the most cynical personality to mush. It’s frustratingly tearjerking.
Matt (Affleck) and Nicole (Johnson) might look like the perfect family with great kids, a welcoming house and the kind of personalities the entire neighborhood is drawn to. Cancer has a curious way of dismantling perfection, though. Before their relocation to the coast of Alabama, Nicole, a local stage actor, introduced her husband to fellow thespian Dane (Segel). The two men instantly become friends, unaware of the impact they will have on each other in the next 13 years. Nicole is diagnosed with aggressive cancer. Matt. unable to manage his daughters, his work and help his wife, accepts Dane’s help to fill in the gaps.
"Affleck easily gives his most emotional performance since nabbing the Oscar."
“It’s not fair that I’m the only woman who knows how special you are.” A lot of films at TIFF this year are struggling in the editing department. “The Friend” is no different. While I’m not a fan of the nonlinear narrative used here, the flash-forwards and backward completely out of order are particularly frustrating. The perspectives change depending on the story’s place in time. Sadly it’s Johnson’s performance that is this film’s weakest link. The emotional earthquake comes not from her, but from Segal, in the title role, and it is only in the final moments where the film really comes into focus. A retooling could make this a masterwork.
Lots of films at TIFF this year are about death and the act of dying. Each one finds ways manages to leave the viewer in a tearful, blubbery mess by the end. “The Friend” is no different. Cowperthwaite (“Megan Leavey“) finds more original ground than Roger Michell’s “Blackbird,” but “The Friend” is adapted from a true story, so she had more to build off. Affleck (“Manchester By the Sea“) easily gives his most emotional performance since nabbing the Oscar. “The Friend” marks the return of Jason Segel, also doing his career-best work here, although it’s the writing behind his character more so than the performance that works so well. There are more self-reflective moments here that help engage the audience, allowing you to put some ‘friend’ you may know in the story. In hindsight “The Friend” will grow more beloved, it’s already happening as I write this review. The power of its conclusion seems to have a way of insulating the film’s weaker points.
This one gets progressively better right up to the emotionally overwhelming end.