Jason Segel and Casey Affleck enjoy a tender bromance in The Friend. This poignant comedy from Gabriela Cowperthwaite (best known for the documentary Blackfish) explores the many forms of love that define our lives. Segel and Affleck play Dane and Matthew, two former college roommates who reunite when Dane moves in with Matt and his wife Nicole (Dakota Johnson) after she receives a cancer diagnosis. A temporary stay becomes a permanent situation as Nicole’s condition worsens and Dane’s support for his friends and their family provides a lifeline they all desperately need. Without a false note of sentimentality, The Friend offers a life-affirming tale of selfless devotion.
The Friend adapts Matthew Teague’s Esquire article of the same name, which offered a personal account of Nicole’s death and Dane’s devotion that went beyond the call of friendship. Screenwriter Brad Ingelsby, who penned last year’s Sienna Miller drama American Woman, frames with film with Teague’s article. Matt reflects upon Nicole’s passing and finds a way to thank his friend while delivering the kind of life-altering article he seeks in war zones worldwide. The real drama of life is in his own home.
Fuelled by a trio of strong performances, The Friend builds a love triangle of sorts as Dane’s role blurs the line between friend and family member. He’s like a husband to Nicole by being at her side when Matt is not, accompanying her to the hospital and joining her for book club. He’s like a wife to Matt as he pitches in around the home and essentially raises their two kids. He’s a nanny, a caregiver, and relationship therapist rolled into one, while his 24/7 presence in the home challenges loyalties between the trio. There are affairs and infidelities as The Friend weaves between past and present to explore life events both major and minor that test and ultimately strengthen our relationships.
Segel has never been better. The Friend uses every inch of his everyman charm and likable charisma. Although Johnson is heartbreakingly good as Nicole, Segel is the heart of the film as Dane. The Friend doesn’t paint a saintly picture of this super-friend. There’s is something undeniably sad about Dane’s situation as the family heals the loneliness he encounters in his own life. It’s good to be in the company of characters who actually feel real.
Dane sacrifices so much for Matt and Nicole, including his own personal life and relationships, by being a rock for his friends and their two daughters. Nicole’s youth—she’s only 34 when she receives the diagnosis—makes the situation even more cruel for everyone involved. They reflect upon living in the moment, enjoying the present, and completing as many of Nicole’s final wishes as they can. Her checklist list includes singing with Katy Perry, but just when one expects The Friend to go down the road of The Bucket List, it doesn’t. The Friend keeps it real by focusing on the day-to-day events and gestures we take for granted. There are, admittedly, issues of pacing as Ingelsby’s script flips back and forth. It somewhat repeats itself while drawing out mundane tasks to illustrate Dane’s commitment to his friends. But even at 124-minutes, the dramedy doesn’t overstay its welcome: some friends know how to linger.
One almost wouldn’t believe Dane’s actions if this film weren’t based on a true story. It’s not that Cowperthwaite and the cast don’t play it sincerely. It’s just that such stories of kindness and selflessness are rare in this increasingly cynical world. The Friend offers a refreshing story that makes audiences appreciate the friends and family they can count on. It’s a humorous, heartfelt, and bittersweet ode to friendships that transform our lives.