Our parents taught us how to live. But no one told us anything about how to die. When it hits us we are ill-prepared, with the focus sadly on ‘ill’ most of the time. In Our Friend, a devastatingly moving study of friendship, illness and death, when the big C hits Nicole (Dakota Johnson) her husband Matthew (Casey Affleck) has no clue as to how to tackle the critical crisis.
Enter the couple’s best friend Dane (Jason Segel) who is no sunshine spreader like Rajesh Khanna in Anand and Bawarchi. Just a regular guy with huge family issues who needs to be with the couple to help them cope with the crisis. Dane’s character is neither deified not shown to be a victim of a martyr’s complex. He is just somebody who needs to be somewhere at this point in time, no matter what it takes.
Our Friend is that rare film about dying that doesn’t turn the characters in the crisis into creatures of self-pity. And for this, full credit must go to the original magazine story by Matthew Teague on which the film is based. The story lends itself to myriad interpretations of human relationships and mortality. The director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (I had liked her last film Megan Leavey which was again about a human relationship, this time about a female soldier and a canine) is not interested in ruminating on death. She tackles more immediate problems in the family circle, like informing the children that their mother is going to die in a few months (the sequence, when it comes, will hit you hard without trying). And alleviating Nicole’s pain as much as possible.
I have always felt Casey Affleck to be a better actor than his superstar-brother Ben Affleck. In Manchester By The Sea which Casey also directed, a death brought the family together. Here, in Our Friend, the biological family is distanced from the crisis on hand, as three people try to help one another in understanding what death entails, and what is its connection with life.
Right at the centre of this crisis is Jason Segel’s Dane. No strong-and-invincible pillar of strength, as such. Just suffering from the family, looking after the house, cleaning up the mess. He is especially wonderful with the dying woman’s two daughters, playing the buddy-dad to them so naturally, I thought how wonderful it would be to see where Dane’s relationship goes with two girls after their mother’s death.
Dakota Johnson as the dying woman is very hard to look at, as she withers in front of our eyes. “Our friends don’t even look at me any longer when they talk to me,” Nicole tells her husband just before her end.
All through this horrible nightmare of a crisis, Dan is there, just a hand away. When the end comes, you will sob with this family. More than that, you will celebrate the friendship that Dan shares with the couple. For those critics who think such a friendship is impossible, I say, look around you. The heart never stops beating as long as someone is listening to it.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Our Friend gets 4 stars!
Image Source: Instagram/ourfriendmovie, youtube/universalpictureshomeentertainment
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