Based on Matthew Teague’s powerful Esquire essay, The Friend is a tale of unconditional friendship in the purest form. When Matthew’s (Casey Affleck) wife Nicole (Dakota Johnson) is diagnosed with cancer, their best friend Dane (Jason Segel) offers to move in and help them shoulder the load for a few weeks. Helping with the daily chores, including assisting with their two young daughters, Dane quickly becomes a staple in the household. Soon weeks turn into months. Dane begins to sacrifice his old life and relationships, including the one with his girlfriend Kat (Marielle Scott), in favour of dedicating his time to servicing the family.
Expanding on Teauge’s article, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film aims to give greater context into why Dane would put his entire life on hold for Matthew and Nicole. Cowperthwaite paints Dane as a well-meaning individual who is aimlessly walking through life with no clear direction. By helping the family, he finds purpose and meaning that seems to have eluded him.
Although Dane is presented with a certain level of nuance, the same cannot be said for Matthew and Nicole. Part of the problem is that the non-linear narrative never allows enough time to get a proper sense of who the couple are outside of the illness. Brief snapshots of key moments create a framework, but the film never stays on one section long enough to feel the full weight of the couple’s highs and lows.
While The Friend does not detail the harsh realities of terminal cancer as well as Teague’s piece, Segel’s touching performance really lifts up the film. He allows the film to explore the nature of friendship and loyalty in a way that feels authentic. Cowperthwaite shows that real friends not only show up in tough times, but stay with you to the end.