By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
↔↔↔ (out of four)
Rated R (for language). Running time: 126 minutes. On demand.
hey come bearing dishes. Casseroles and lasagna, baked sweets and mystery entrees concealed in ready-to-heat dishes.
They don’t want to come inside because they don’t want to wake you up in case you’re resting; they’ll just leave the dish with a handwritten note outside the front door and scurry back to their lives, because they’re healthy and you have cancer and they don’t know what else to do so they come bearing dishes.
The gentle, two-boxes-of-tissue tearjerker “Our Friend” is filled with scenes like the aforementioned, scenes that ring true for anyone who has had a serious illness or had a loved one with a serious illness, and that’s just about all of us, isn’t it?
In Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Our Friend,” based on an Esquire magazine article written by Matthew Teague, we witness many a familiar scene from the cancer movie blueprint (see “Love Story,” “Terms of Endearment,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” et al.), from the noble patient, who just might beat this thing but then suffers a setback to the loving friends and family members who are sometimes overwhelmed by everything but feel like they can’t complain, to the flashback sequences when life was relatively carefree and light, to the final farewell, which gets us every time.
What’s unusual about this tale is the Third Wheel element.
Dakota Johnson’s Nicole Teague has been close friends with Jason Segel’s Dane since their college days, and Nicole’s globe-trotting journalist husband Matt (Casey Affleck) has also become best buds with Dane, a likable, self-effacing, directionless, lumbering guy who resembles a cartoon character come to life and has never quite found his footing. Nicole and Matt have two young daughters, and Matt’s work can be all-consuming, so when the devastating news comes that Nicole’s cancer has spread and she has only months to live, Dane offers to move in and help out in any way he can — and the Teagues leap at the offer.
Days turn into weeks turn into months, and the huge-hearted Dane is there every step of the way, whether he’s helping the girls get ready for school or clinking beers with Matt and offering a sympathetic ear or listening to Nicole, who bears her burden with great dignity and strength but is prone to the occasional meltdown, as any of us would be.
It’s all very lovely but just a little bit … odd. Dane is like a nicer and much more helpful version of that slacker guy who represents a supposedly inferior wireless service in those TV commercials. He’s ALWAYS there. Of course, as Dane put his life on hold, we know this experience — tragic as it is — will make him a better person and provide the clarity and purpose that have always eluded him. This is a Learning Journey.
With the sometimes-intrusive score reminding us this is a sad but also uplifting story and the visuals heavy on sun-dappled splendor, “Our Friend” occasionally goes overboard on the sentiment. But thanks in large part to Segel’s huggable-bear persona, Affleck’s typically steady work and Dakota Johnson turning in perhaps the most impressive performance of her career, the laughs and the tears feel quite real.
‘Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself’
Hulu presents a film directed by Frank Oz and written by Derek DelGaudio. No MPAA rating. Running time: 90 minutes.
ith all due and great respect to the prestidigitation talents of David Copperfield and David Blaine and Phil Dunphy and others of their ilk, I’ve never been an ardent fan of magic acts as captured for TV specials or films. No matter how straightforward the camera angles, no matter how long the unbroken shots, there’s always this nagging sense of:
Yeah, but they can do anything with CGI these days …
Maybe that’s not fair, but haven’t you thought the same thing once or twice?
That being said, it’s a tribute to the amazing and fantastically perplexing and singularly mind-blowing Hulu film “In & of Itself” that even though a few of the feats performed by magician/actor/storyteller/performance artist Derek DelGaudio in his one-man show could be explained away by the use of special effects (which DelGaudio does NOT employ, as far as we can tell), most of it just seems …
Directed by Frank Oz of Muppets and voice-of-Yoda fame and with Stephen Colbert among its producers, “In & of Itself” is a “concert film” of DelGaudio’s one-man show at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Manhattan, which was produced by Neil Patrick Harris and ran from May 2016 until August 2018. Literally dozens of performances are incorporated into the film.
Throughout “In & of Itself,” DelGaudio breaks the fourth wall and not only addresses the audience as if they were sitting across from him in a diner, but brings some individuals onstage and near the end walks among the audience, communicating with nearly every member of the crowd in a quiet, simple way that has the tear ducts working overtime.
The 30-something DelGaudio, who looks and sounds like the Most Average Man in the world and yet commands the stage with effortless ease, performs the work in a stark setting, on a stage containing two chairs and a table, with a ladder propped up against the back wall, which contains a half-dozen dioramas, including an automaton, a bottle of booze, a brass scale, the horizon at sundown, a brick penetrating a pane of glass and rows of mail compartment shelves containing dozens of letters. Each of these dioramas will come into play as DelGaudio weaves simple but mesmerizing tales about a pivotal moment from his childhood, an encounter he had with a man in a bar, how our perceptions can be clouded depending on our frame of mind or even the time of day and how a seemingly innocuous object such as the aforementioned brick can take on great meaning in a certain context.
Ah, but where’s the magic in all this? Glad you asked! DelGaudio is breathtakingly good at card tricks, good old-fashioned card tricks, pulling off feats that would make the late great Ricky Jay proud. He also takes the show beyond the borders of the theater when he asks audience members to name a well-known but random intersection in the city — and the gold brick that was once stuck in that windowpane appears on that very corner. (We see filmed snippets of attendees post-show at various intersections in New York City, laughing in delight when they see that yep, there’s the gold brick. One supposes DelGaudio could have an army of assistants, each with a gold brick in hand, posted throughout the city, ready to deposit said brick, but that seems like a stretch.)
In the most astonishing trick of all, DelGaudio invites an audience member onto the stage, has them choose from a handful of sealed letters, and invites them to read the letter while everyone looks on. In show after show, the chosen audience member is reduced to tears while reading a letter from a close relative or dear friend — a letter with details so specific the reader has no doubt it’s authentic. This has to be some kind of hypnosis at work, yes?
I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not sure. See the film for yourselves and get back to me. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to figure it out, but that’s the great thing about such magic, right?
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