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OUR FRIEND: 3 ½ STARS. “about finding your logical, not biological family.”

Magazines may be becoming an artifact of the past but Hollywood still looks to them for inspiration. In the last few years a half dozen movies found inspiration in the pages of “Esquire,” “Vanity Fair” and “The New Yorker,” including “The Friend,” a new drama starring Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segel and now playing In theatres and on-demand.

Based on Matthew Teague’s “Esquire” article “The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word,” the film uses a broken timeline—jumping back and forth—to tell the true story of Teague’s terminally ill wife Nicole and their friend-turned-nursemaid Dane. Affleck is Matt, a war correspondent with an attitude. “It’s Friday,” says his editor, “I’ve been tired of you since Wednesday.” He’s an up-and-comer, married to Nicole, a talented musical theatre performer played by Johnson. Her best pal at the theatre is Dane (Segel) a sad sack who can’t seem to get a girlfriend. “It’s not fair,” she says. “I’m the only woman who knows how special you are.”

By the time Nicole is diagnosed with cancer their lives have taken different paths, but Dane leaves his life in New Orleans behind to help his Atlanta-based friends. “Would it help if I stayed for a while? You don’t have to do this alone.” The planned week or two visit turns into months as Dane takes on more responsibility, becoming Matt’s pillar of strength and an indispensable part of Nicole’s transition.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has made a sensitive film about finding your logical, not biological family. Dane is an anchorless man who finds a sense of permanence with his friends. Segel brings his trademarked relatability to the role, exuding warmth but also a sadness due to his rudderless station in life. Staying with Nicole and Matt and their daughters provides him with a home, but it is temporary, a state of affairs bound to end in heartache. Behind every one of his toothy grins is the anxiety of the situation, carefully masked to spare his hosts the extent of his grief. It’s lovely work that quietly defines the width and breath of selfless giving.

Affleck plumbs the depths of the circumstances, examining grief tinged with anger over a situation he can’t control and Johnson brings grace and beauty, especially in the way she looks at Matt, Dane and the children knowing that she won’t be there for their birthdays, holidays etc, to the role of a woman counting her time in days rather than years. Cherry Jones, as a palliative nurse—an “Angel of Mercy” according to Nicole’s doctor—gives a no-nonsense performance that drips compassion.

“The Friend” is a showcase for Segel’s easy charm but also gives the actor a chance to dig deeper. The former sitcom star delivers some much-needed laughs but they are tinged with humility that is very touching.


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