But “Our Friend” is great where it really matters and it’s about the little details, the day to day side of shopping, cooking dinner, while your family goes through this terrible ordeal. Cancer consumes the patient, but it also ravages the family. There is a beautiful sequence where Matt walks past a playground, seeing happy mothers and children playing on the swings. He is so far from being able to do it, it is as if he will never join this warm and carefree circle again. Death makes you self-centered. How can people continue to live their lives when my life is ending? As singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham says, “And the world has the nerve to keep spinning.” “Our friend” really understands this.
If you don’t believe in the friendship of Matt, Nicole and Dane, then the movie won’t work. You believe it. Matt d’Affleck can be a difficult man, prone to dark rumors. When in pain, he suffers mostly in silence, interrupted by explosive impatience or sudden fainting. (Yes. He faints. Often.) Nicole is a warm and generous person, and people are drawn to her. She forgives, but not child’s play. What’s unique here is that Dane is friends with Matt and Nicole. (Teague writes about this dynamic in his essay.) Segel is perfect for this kind of material, with his scruffy cuteness, his humorous impulses (his scenes with the children are especially wonderful), his open-mindedness. One can only imagine how horrible it would be if Dane were portrayed as a holy and sacrificed angel. Segel plays on Dane’s feeling of disappointment, his loneliness for a companion, for his own children. Everything is here. He is a complicated man, and yet his urges for friendship are simple and clear. Together, the three actors create a believable sense of shared history.
“Our Friend” is insightful on a lot of things that no one wants to talk about, like caregiver fatigue. “Take a break” gnaws at the caregiver with guilt. Dane suggests that Matt take a short hike. Matt resists, but Dane wins and they have a good day. There’s a quick montage showing neighbors and friends dropping food on the porch steps. Such a small thing, but so useful. The film is also truthful about the less positive aspects. Right after Nicole’s diagnosis, friends flock to the house to support them. As Nicole gets sicker and sicker, the friends stop passing. Only Dane remains.