When I go to the cinema, as I do every weekend, it is usually one of those theaters where you can have a meal while enjoying a film. It operates basically like a restaurant, though the poor servers that have to march up and down stairs are at your beck and call. I try not to disturb them too often because I feel bad for them, and I always try to tip well for their efforts (even if service is sometimes slow). But, hey, times are tough for everyone, you know? Speaking of “tough,” I saw Our Friend (2019) this past weekend, though I cannot tell you why it was not in theaters sooner. By “tough,” I mean that its subject matter was difficult, not that it is a bad movie. At one particularly emotional moment, there I was, balling my eyes out, when the server sidles up next to me asking if there was anything else I needed. I had to chuckle a bit, wiping away my tears and trying to say “no” in as even a voice as I could muster. You will see why this movie had me crying.
Our Friend employs the kind of non-linear story telling I hate, but I was fine with it in this film. Thus it starts on the verge of the moment that had me sobbing later on. Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel) sits with Molly (Isabella Kai) and Evie Teague (Violet McGraw) while their parents are inside. Mom, Nicole (Dakota Johnson), decides to tell her children that the cancer she has been battling is terminal, and she is discussing how to break the news to them with her husband, Matt (Casey Affleck). The kids are called in but we remain with Dane as he hears the outburst of cries from outside and knows what has happened. From there, the film shifts to revealing how Dane ended up being with this family during its most difficult time. Years previously, Dane and Nicole had worked together for a theater group in New Orleans, becoming good friends. When he had asked her out without realizing she was married, the three of them get together to settle their differences. In the process they form a bond that will last a lifetime (literally). Dane becomes the friend they both can rely on for anything at any time. There are a series of moments that they show between the three that fill in each of their characters, such as Dane’s loneliness, Matt’s hard work as a journalist that has him away from home a great deal, and Nicole’s fun-loving nature. What brings them even closer is when Nicole is diagnosed with cancer. Not long after this event, Dane essentially moves in with the Teagues. He foregoes a relationship and sleeps on an air mattress in the laundry room in order to help their family while Matt helps Nicole concentrate on her treatment. Dane becomes a surrogate father to Molly and Evie, making them meals and taking them to school. He is also there to provide an emotional boost for Matt and Nicole whenever they need it. At first, Nicole decides to hide the fact that she is going to die, and instead attempts to fulfill a bucket list (even though she does not want to call it a bucket list). But as things get worse, she can no longer keep this information from them. After she eventually passes away, Dane is perhaps the most devastated, staying in bed for weeks. Matt processes his grief by beginning to write about his experiences, originally thinking he was talking about Nicole but ultimately praising Dane for everything he had done. Thus buoyed, Dane finally returns home to begin his life in earnest.
You know what is going to happen in Our Friend pretty much from the start. What you do not know is how everyone was going to handle it, myself included. I have seen people die of cancer, people my own age, and I thought I was emotionally ready to see such a film. What got the tears rolling for me (and it is still hard to stop myself from crying as I write this) is when Nicole began writing letters for her daughters to be opened at different milestones in their lives. Nope, I am crying now. There is something about that level of thoughtfulness that gets me. It is hard enough to lose a parent (or anyone) in that manner, far before their time. What mother or father would not want to see their child graduate from school, get married, and have children of their own? For Nicole, she knows she will not physically be there for these events, but the letters will help her live on for her children. As poignant as that is, what is perhaps better is when Nicole tells Molly and Evie that she will be there, right before them, whenever they close their eyes.
Even though Our Friend deals with a person facing her untimely mortality, and its effect on those she loves, it is actually a pro-life movie. One of the best examples of this fact is when, in anger and frustration over some of Nicole’s other friends seemingly abandoning her, she rages against Matt that she still matters. This is in lockstep with Catholic teaching. It is difficult to be critical of anyone in such a situation, but the main reason Nicole feels as she does is because long time friends of hers no longer came around as her health declined. Everyone has to handle seeing the ones they love suffer in their own way. Some cannot take it and decide not to accept it, and that is understandable. The one suffering feels helpless, as do those that love that person. When faced with something like terminal cancer, there is nothing anyone can do, and that is something with which many cannot cope. Yet a person with such a condition is still a beloved creation of God and worthy of the dignity befitting them. The Catholic Church has long cared for these individuals, especially when nobody else has seemingly wanted to do so. It has also taught that we need to emulate this Christ-like behavior ourselves. At times, this can require sacrifice, another Christian principle, and this well describes Dane’s actions.
Our Friend is not perfect in its moral content. I was slightly uncomfortable with Nicole’s “YOLO” approach after she first realizes she is going to die. There is also an affair she has with a theater director that her and Matt have to overcome. Nonetheless, if you are in the mood for a tear-jerker, then get that box of tissue ready. It is good to cry, for a reason. If you are crying for no reason then I pray that you talk to someone so that you might find one. A fancy word we use for these moments is “catharsis.” An interesting word, that one. In its original Greek, it means “cleansing.” Since moisture is involved, there is a certain parallel between crying and cleaning. Tears most readily come, though, in times fraught with emotional weight, times that weigh heavy on the soul, times that can do damage to the soul without catharsis. Hence, crying is good for the soul. So there.