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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Our Friend, Review: Cancer kills, friendship lives

Our Friend, Review: Cancer kills, friendship lives

Several things are going right for this American true story. Slice of life characters, casting, a lead actress who looks really beautiful enough to justify the lead actor calling her the ‘most beautiful he has ever seen’, credible performances, locales shot from all angles, having its heart in the right place, generating heart-wrenching emotions, just that touch of humour, portraying an almost perfect marriage, as against divorced lead characters, seen in most recent US movies, and yet Our Friend falls a bit short on cinematic parameters.

Mathew and Nicole Teague are a loving couple, dedicated to each other. They have two daughters. Mathew works as a feature-writer in a newspaper, while Nicole works in the theatre. He nurses ambitions of making it big as a war correspondent, mainly to earn more money to give his family an even better standard of living. Nicole is not ambitious. Nicole meets Dane, a lonely person, who, unaware that she is married, asks her out on a date. She refuses, and informs Mathew. Instead of getting upset, both of them develop a friendship with Dane, who turns out to be a truly devoted friend.

Mathew’s dream is realised when he gets a job as war correspondent in Libya. On the way to Libya, he has a stop-over in Lahore, where he is propositioned by a female journalist. Fiercely loyal to his wife, he turns it down. The Teagues’s world comes crashing down when Nicole is diagnosed with terminal abdominal cancer. Mathew, who is grumpy by nature, and is unaware of how to run a home, finds it difficult to cope with the situation. Nicole’s parents help out, but it is Dane who proves to be indispensable. Although he undergoes two-heart-breaks, he gives all his time and attention to Nicole, Mathew and their daughters, becoming the best friend either of the couple have/had.

Based on The Friend: Love is Not a Big Enough Word, a long article by Matthew Teague, the film is written by Brad Inglesby (Out of the Furnace, Run All Night, American Woman), the film taps the inherent goodness of the human soul and shines like a beacon in an era where human values are fast crumbling and marriages, in the US for sure, don’t last long. Dialogue is realistic. The one indiscretion of Nicole is subtly brought out, though the explosion of Mathew, when he learns of it, is expected. Recurrent timeline and location shifts tend to confuse the viewer, more so when the film is 127 minutes long. The complete lack of happy or contented characters makes the film extremely bleak and morbid. Some attempt is made at comedy, when Dane tries to have a go at a career as a stand-up comic, but it does not jell. Although it is based on a true, realistic story, the Dane emerges as a utopian person, and may their tribe prosper. If you have a friend like Dane, in 2021, consider yourself blessed.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite, with several documentaries and one feature, Megan Leavey, a biographical drama behind her, directs. There is a lot of attention paid to detail but some shots either linger or seem to go nowhere. Her inherent documentary treatment surfaces occasionally. She is obviously in love with her country and we have some attractive shots of the great outdoors. While the earlier portion is well controlled, once the couple gets temporarily distanced, the proceedings become predictable, what with Mathew and the children behaving as you would expect them to behave. To her credit, Gabriela does equal justice to the three main protagonists. Confined by the cancer, which is the raison d-être of the film, we cannot expect a novel approach, though that is what would raise the film to a notch above the level it finds itself at.

The cast comprises Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother; full name Caleb Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt; Out of the Furnace , A Ghost Story, The Old Man and the Gun, Light of My Life) as Matthew Teague, Dakota Johnson (The Social Network, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed) as Nicole Teague, Jason Segel (The End of the Tour, The Discovery Will Harbor,         Come Sunday) as Dane Faucheux, Jake Owen as Aaron, Gwendoline Christie as Teresa, Cherry Jones as Faith Pruett, Denée Benton as Charlotte, Isabella Rice as Molly (one daughter), Violet McGraw as Evangelina/Evie (the other daughter), Marielle Scott as Kat, Ahna O'Reilly as Gale, Azita Ghanizada as Elizabeth and Sampley Barinaga as Kenny. At least two black characters, although minor, incidentally both women, give a holistic view of the milieu.

Casey is usually deadpan, as the role demanded, but emotes whenever called to do so. He speaks with a gruff voice, which is often at the mumble level. Dakota looks great and handles her scenes with her daughters with aplomb. Her sinking to foul language when provoked is not as convincing. Jason Segel manages to hold his own strongly, aside the couple, which is the point of focus. Other actors do well, overall.

Music by Rob Simonsen makes generous use of that typical American instrument, the guitar. Cinematography by Joe Anderson is often under-illuminated, possible to keep in tune with the film’s dark subject. Editor Colin Patton could have been crisper with the delete button and the cutting points, to make Our Friend a sharper, shorter presentation. Other production values are standard.

It is difficult to decide whether this film is about a young woman, with two daughters and a madly in love husband, dying of cancer, or about their common friend who sacrifices almost everything to stand by them in their months and months of need. Well, it is actually about both. While cancer often kills, friendship is a rare and cherished bond. As it is said in the film, the article that Mathew was writing after Nicole’s death was to be about her, but turns out to be about The Friend (retitled Our Friend, in the film). Do take your pack of tissues along, if you decide to watch it.

Our Friend was the first English language film which I was invited to see at a cinema, hall at a press preview, after the onset of the COVID 19 Corona virus, about a year ago. Only a handful of press personnel turned-up, which might be attributed to the fears that the virus is still active, albeit nominally, and the vaccine shots have yet to be administered to the public at large, in India. Regular previews might begin over the next couple of months, once the mass vaccination drive is completed. The film is a PVR (a leading Indian theatre and distribution chain) release and was previewed at PVRs Juhu multiplex in Mumbai.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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