Well, I’ve got to say that this was the most unexpected return-to-form collaboration between Jason Segel and Dakota Johnson since The Five Year Engagement!
The Friend is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and it stars Jason Segel, Casey Affleck, and Dakota Johnson. It revolves around a true story about a terminally ill wife, who has only six months to live; which inspires her best friends to drop everything in their lives, and move in with her and help out with the situation.
The story of which this film is based on is actually from an Esquire article that really interested me. What really made me want to see the film however was it’s cast. Jason Segel is such a likable and funny guy from How I Met Your Mother and seeing him in a dramatic role really interested me. Casey Affleck is also an incredible actor from film’s like Manchester by the Sea, and Dakota Johnson is an actress that has been blowing up in the indie scene lately. I am happy to say that The Friend is delightful film, despite it’s obvious flaws.
What really stands out about the film is the direction from Gabriela Cowperthwaite. She handles the material with such patience and really shows every aspect of the family relationship depicted. It almost gives a real-life feeling to the film, which allows you to draw you in more to the characters, who are a very important element at play here. The emotional weight of the film is also conveyed excellently on screen because of this, which shows how promising of a director Cowperthwaite (director of Megan Leavey) really is.
What works equally well is the script written by Brad Ingelsby. The film takes it’s time to build the relationships of it’s characters, thanks to it’s strong narrative structure and dialogue. The film is told through a nonlinear approach that is presented throughout the numerous years of relationship drama between these characters; and it works effectively. It gives us the necessary background needed for it’s lead protagonists and is cool to see their progression over time. The film is one that isn’t afraid to be emotional as it handles those moments very well. However, the biggest surprise is how funny the film actually was. It gives a solid breather from the heavy drama, that largely consumed the film.
The performances from Segel, Affleck, and Johnson are also nothing short of incredible. Jason Segel gives his best performance yet, where he delivers both comically and dramatically. He conveys all of his emotional parts with great subtly, and genuinely feels like a real character. Casey Affleck is just as incredible as he was in Manchester by the Sea, as he also conveys the necessarily emotions of his character (just like Segel) with subtly and nuance. Dakota Johnson is also very excellent in the film and holds herself well against Segel and Affleck. The big takeaway I had from all three of the performances is how real everyone was; as they felt like real people and not just characters on screen.
My biggest problem with The Friend is that it was 30 minutes too long. While I do like the structure of the film, there are a few moments where I feel like it could have been cut down, to speed up the pace. There were plenty of segments within the film that could have been cut to save time and progress the plot faster and more effectively. The Friend is definitely not the best film of TIFF 2019, but it’s a very nice film that means well. It’s an enjoyable picture about how a friendship between three people is so strong, that it unties different individuals in such great times of pain. It has amazing direction, performances, and writing. I really hope a decent enough studio picks it up for an international release, because The Friend is honestly quite good!
The Friend screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Elevation Pictures will release the film in the upcoming months.