(director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite; screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby; cinematographer: Joe Anderson; editor: Colin Patton; music: Rob Simonsen; cast: Dakota Johnson (Nicole Teague), Casey Affleck (Matt Teague), Jason Segel (Dane Faucheux),  Gwendoline Christie (Teresa), Cherry Jones (Faith Pruett), Ahna O’Reilly (Gale), Jake Owen (Aaron), Denée Ben (Charlotte); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Kevin Walsh, Michael Pruss, Ryan Stowell, Teddy Schwarzman; STX Films; 2019)

A true story that’s a sanitized tearjerker drama about terminal illness.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A true story that’s a sanitized tearjerker drama about terminal illness, directed in a bittersweet way by Gabriela Cowperthwaite  (“Meagan Leavey”) and written by Brad Ingelsby. It’s lensed in small town Fairhope, Alabama.

Matt Teague (Casey Affleck), a local journalist and later a war correspondent, published a story in Esquire Magazine, “The Friend,”  of going through the terrible experience of his stage actress/singer wife Nicole’s (Dakota Johnson) death at age 36, in 2015, from cancer. The article turned out to be a homage to his best friend Dane (Jason Segel) thanking him for all he did to help the couple cope with the tragedy, even moving into his home in Fairhope to help care for his two kids Molly (Isabella Kai) and Evie (Violet McGraw).

The film is built around the cancer diagnosis and its results, and the special help from the free-spirit single friend who made it easier for the couple to cope with such a difficult situation. The oafish caregiver, with no girlfriend, works as a New Orleans stage hand at the same theater where Nicole works.

There’s a flash-back from 2013 to a further flash-back to 2008, and one to a year before the diagnosis, as the film skips back and forward over a 13 year-period making it clunky.

It never connected much with me as the love between the couple never seemed as deep as pretended, and the narrative was unfocused–I felt too much was missing for me to fully evaluate what was happening. Except I found Dane’s generosity was a true act of friendship.

The best I can say is that the death story is watchable despite all its unpleasantness, and the friend’s gestures seem genuine. A friendship like that is always worthy of praise.

The Friend