Review: ‘Our Friend,’ starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson and Jason Segel

January 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck in “Our Friend” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Gravitas Ventures)

“Our Friend”

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2000 to 2014 in Fairhope, Alabama; New Orleans; and briefly in Pakistan, the dramatic film “Our Friend” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple and their male best friend go through ups and downs in their relationship, especially after the wife gets ovarian cancer and the best friend temporarily moves in the family home to help the spouses take care of their two young daughters.

Culture Audience: “Our Friend” will appeal primarily to people interested in emotionally authentic, dramatic movies about loyal friendships and how cancer affects relationships.

Isabella Kai, Jason Segel and Violet McGraw in “Our Friend” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Gravitas Ventures)

The tearjerker drama “Our Friend,” which is inspired by a true story, departs from the usual formula of a family coping with cancer. When someone in a family has this disease, cancer dramas usually focus on how a spouse, parent or child is dealing with it. Those aspects are definitely in “Our Friend,” but there’s also the unusual component of a male best friend moving into the family household to be a nurturing supporter. Thanks to heartfelt performances from the main cast members, “Our Friend” is a genuine and relatable film, despite being the type of drama where it’s easy to predict exactly how it’s going to end.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Brad Ingelsby, “Our Friend” is based on a 2015 Esquire magazine essay titled “The Friend,” written by journalist Matt Teague. (“The Friend” was the original title for this movie.) In this deeply personal article, he described the generosity of Dane Faucheux, the longtime best friend of Matt and his wife Nicole Teague. After Nicole was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dane (who was a bachelor at the time) put his life on hold in New Orleans to temporarily move in with the couple in Fairhope, Alabama, to help them take care of their household and the couple’s two young daughters Molly and Evangeline, nicknamed Evie.

The movie “Our Friend” expands on that essay by jumping back and forth in time to show how the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane evolved over 14 years, including the highs, lows and everything in between. The movie’s story spans from the year 2000 (when the three of them met) to the year 2014, when Nicole’s cancer was at its worst. The cinematic version of the story avoids a lot of nauseating details that are in the Esquire essay about bodily functions of a cancer patient. Instead, the movie focuses on showing this intense friendship from the individual perspectives of Matt, Nicole and Dane.

Nicole and Dane met each other while living in New Orleans in their early 20s, when she was one of the stars of a local musical theater production and he was a lighting operator in the crew. Nicole is open-hearted, compassionate and the type of person whom a lot of people feel like could be their best friend. Dane is socially awkward and somewhat introverted but an overall good guy who has some immaturity issues.

In the movie, Nicole was already married to Matt when she met Dane, who didn’t know that Nicole was married when he asked Nicole out on a date. Dane’s courtship mistake is never shown in the movie, but it’s mentioned in conversations. Once Nicole told Dane about her marital status, they were able to overcome this minor embarrassment and became good friends. Dane and Nicole are comfortable enough with each other that talk about their love lives with each other.

Dane is thoughtful and generous (he gives homemade mix CDs to Nicole), and he and Nicole love to talk about music, even when they agree to disagree. She thinks Led Zeppelin is “the greatest band ever,” while he doesn’t really care for Led Zeppelin. The Led Zeppelin reference in the movie is significant because two of Led Zeppelin’s original songs—”Ramble On” and “Going to California”—are used in emotional montage scenes in “Our Friend.”

By making Nicole an actress who loves musical theater, “Our Friend” gives Johnson a chance to showcase her singing skills, which are very good but not outstanding. Johnson sings two songs in the movie: “Hands All Hands Around” (from the musical “Quilters”) and a cover version of the Grateful Dead’s “If I Had the World to Give.” Johnson also did some singing in her 2020 movie “The High Note,” so maybe this is her way of demonstrating that she wants to be a professional singer too.

One day, Dane asks for Nicole’s advice about how to approach a theater co-worker named Charlotte (played by Denée Benton) whom he wants to ask out on a date. Unbeknownst to him, Charlotte isn’t attracted to Dane and has already been dating the theater’s stage manager named Aaron (played by Jake Owen). Minutes after Dane confides in Nicole that he’s going to ask Charlotte on a date, Charlotte tells Nicole in a private conversation that she suspects that Dane has a crush on her but Charlotte isn’t interested in dating Dane. It’s one of many examples in the movie that show how Nicole is a trusted confidante to many people in her life and she knows how to make people feel special.

Of course, Dane eventually finds out that Charlotte and Aaron are dating. Dane mopes about it for a little bit when he sees Charlotte and Aaron showing some heavy public displays of affection at a bar on the night that Nicole introduces Matt to Dane. The first time Matt and Dane meet, it’s at this bar, and Dane makes an apology to Matt for asking Nicole out on a date. Matt tells Dane not to worry about it and says that he has no hard feelings.

While Dane watches Charlotte and Aaron from a distance at the bar, Dane seem to takes their coupling way more personally than he should. He grumbles to Nicole and Matt that Charlotte seems to be rubbing her feelings for Aaron in Dane’s face. It’s a sign (one of many) that one of Dane’s flaws is that he can be emotionally insecure and overly needy.

As the movie skips back and forth in time, it’s eventually shown that Charlotte and Aaron have gotten married and have two children together. Charlotte and Nicole remain very close friends, even after Matt and Nicole move to Fairhope. Matt and Nicole relocated to Fairhope so that Nicole could be close to her parents. The parents of Matt and Nicole parents are never seen in the movie. After Nicole finds out that she has cancer in 2012, Matt tells Dane that Nicole has been afraid to tell her parents about the cancer diagnosis.

By the time that Nicole and Matt are living in Fairhope during her cancer ordeal, it’s shown in the movie that their daughter Molly (played by Isabella Kai) is about 11 or 12 years old, while their daughter Evie played by Violet McGraw) is about 5 or 6 years old. Molly is sometimes moody and quick-tempered, while Evie is generally a happy-go-lucky kid. Molly’s personality is more like Matt’s, while Evie is more like Nicole.

Over the years, it’s apparent that Aaron likes to make snide, condescending comments about Dane to other people whenever Dane isn’t around to defend himself. Aaron always makes digs about Dane working in dead-end jobs (such as a sales clerk at an athletic clothing store) and Dane not seeming to have an career goals or any real direction in life. Dane (who has a goofy sense of humor) has tried to be a stand-up comedian, but these dreams never really go anywhere, mainly because he just isn’t that talented. However, when Dane practices his stand-up routine for Nicole, she politely laughs at his corny jokes, and it makes him feel good.

Dave has financial problems, to the point where he’s sometimes temporarily homeless and has to stay at friends’ places or has to move back home with his parents, and he seems unsure of his purpose in life. B y contrast, Matt’s career as a journalist is flourishing. One of Matt’s first jobs was as a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, where he felt stifled and bored with covering fluffy local news. Matt’s real goal is to be a globetrotting journalist, where he gets to cover what he calls “important” news, such as wars and politics, that can make a big difference in people’s lives.

Matt gets his wish and his career is thriving as a freelancer covering war news for publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic. But all that traveling has taken a toll on his marriage to Nicole. In 2008, while Matt is on assignment in Pakistan, he and Nicole have an argument on the phone because he took an assignment to go to Libya without discussing it with Nicole first.

Matt doesn’t think that he did anything wrong, because he says that the family needs the money. Nicole, who’s now a homemaker, tells Matt that she feels like she’s a “single parent” and complains to him: “I feel like I married a war correspondent, not a journalist.”

Matt goes home for a few days before he has to go to Libya. And he gets unsolicited advice from Dane to not take the assignment in Libya and stay with the family. This leads to an argument between Matt and Dane where Dane points out Matt’s personality flaws, while Matt insults Dane for having a directionless life with no real career.

Because the movie’s timeline is not in chronological order, viewers have to piece together the ebbs and flows of the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane. There are hints that Dane struggles with his mental health, especially in an extended scene taking place in 2010 that shows Dane abruptly packing up and leaving his parents’ house so he can go camping by himself in remote Southwest canyons. Before he leaves, Dane’s older brother Davey (played by Richard Speight Jr.) asks Dane if Dane is having one of his “episodes.”

During this solitary excursion, Dane meets a friendly German camper named Teresa (played by Gwendoline Christie), who’s also traveling by herself. Teresa asks Dane to join her on her hikes. Dane is standoffish at first, but Teresa insists on hanging out with Dane, and he eventually warms up to her a little bit. Teresa senses that Dane is deeply troubled and unhappy with his life, so she shares with him a very personal experience that changes his perspective. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie, proving that not all of the emotional gravitas in “Our Friend” has to do with Nicole’s cancer diagnosis.

However, “Our Friend” is still very much a cancer movie. There’s the heart-wrenching scene showing Matt and Nicole deciding how they are going to break the news to their children that Nicole is going to die from cancer. There’s the predictable scene where Nicole makes a “bucket list” of things she wants to do before she dies, with Matt and Dane frantically trying to make some of the more difficult things on the list (such as being grand marshal of the next Mardi Gras parade) come true for Nicole. And then there are the expected scenes of Nicole having medication-related meltdowns.

The Teague family members also have the misfortune of their beloved pet pug Gracie being diagnosed with cancer around the same time that Nicole gets sick with cancer. While Matt spends time with Nicole in the hospital, Dane has the task of taking Gracie to the veterinarian, who tells Dane that it’s best if the terminally ill dog undergoes euthanasia. Dane, who is not the owner of the dog, is put in the awkward position of having to represent the Teague family when the dog is permanently put to sleep. Dane also has to tell Molly and Evie the bad news about Gracie’s death, because Matt and Nicole are too preoccupied in the hospital.

During all of this cancer drama, Dane gets some pushback and criticism for deciding to move in with Matt and Nicole. At the time of Nicole’s cancer diagnosis, Dane was living in New Orleans and had been dating a baker named Kat (played by Marielle Scott) for about a year. Dane and Kat’s relationship has progressed to the point where Kat has given him spare keys to her home.

At first, Kat was fine with Dane going to visit the Teagues in Fairhope (which is about 160 miles away from New Orleans), as a show of support for the family. But the visits became longer and longer, until Dane eventually moved in with the Teagues. And Kat wasn’t so okay with that decision. Aaron also makes snarky comments to the Teagues’ circle of friends about Dane being a freeloader, until Matt eventually puts Aaron in his place for being such an unrelenting jerk about Dane.

The movie also shows that Matt and Nicole have other challenges in their lives besides her cancer. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, their marriage hit a rough patch due to issues over jealousy and infidelity. And before and during Nicole’s cancer crisis, Molly was feeling resentment toward Matt because of his long absences from home. Molly sometimes lashes out at Matt and makes it clear that she thinks Nicole is a much better parent than Matt is.

The biggest noticeable flaw about “Our Friend” is there seems to be a gender double standard in how the three main characters physically age in the movie. Nicole looks like she’s barely aged throughout the entire movie, even though the story takes place over the course of 14 years. It’s a contrast to how Matt and Dane age over the years, particularly with their hair. In the early years of the friendship, Segel wears a wig to make Dane look younger, while in the later years, he sports his natural receding hairline. Likewise, Affleck’s natural gray hair is seen in the later years of the friendship.

This discrepancy has a lot to do with the fact that in real life, Johnson is 14 years younger than Affleck, and she’s nine years younger than Segel. The real Nicole, Matt and Dane were much closer to each other in age. This movie’s unwillingness to show a woman aging over 14 years and casting a much-younger female co-star as the love interest of the leading male actor are part of bigger age discrimination issues that make it harder for actresses over the age of 35 to be cast as a love interest to someone who’s close to their age.

And when Nicole has cancer, the physical damages from cancer are barely shown. There’s the typical “dark circles under the eyes” look with makeup, as well as mentions of Nicole’s hair falling out because of chemotherapy. (At various times, she wears a headband or a wig.)

But the movie could have used a little more realism in showing the devastating physical toll that cancer can take. More often than not in the cancer scenes, the movie makes Nicole just look like she’s hung over from a wild night of partying, instead of looking like a real cancer patient who’s deep in chemotherapy. It’s not as if Johnson had to lose a scary amount of weight to look like a convincing cancer patient, but more could have been done with makeup and/or visual effects to make it look more realistic that her character was dying of cancer.

However, the filmmakers (including film editor Colin Patton) should get a lot of credit for taking the non-chronological scenes and making everything into a cohesive story that’s easy to understand. “Our Friend” is not the type of movie that can be watched while distracted by something else, because the year that a sequence takes place is shown on the screen to guide viewers. People watching this movie have to pay attention to these milestone year indicators to get the full scope of the story.

“Our Friend” is a well-cast movie where all the actors do convincing portrayals of the emotions expressed in the movie. (Cherry Jones has a small but important role as a hospice nurse named Faith Pruett.) As much as the movie is about Matt and Nicole’s marriage, it’s also very much about the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane.

Even though Nicole and Dane were friends before Dane and Matt knew each other, Nicole and Dane’s friendship starts to wane a little bit, the more debilitated with cancer she becomes. There’s a noticeable brotherly bond that develops between Matt and Dane, especially when they have to face the reality of life without Nicole. It doesn’t diminish Nicole’s role in the film, but it realistically shows how relationships can change when people have to prepare for the end of a loved one’s life. “Our Friend” is not an easy film to watch for anyone who hates to think about dying from cancer, but the sadness in the movie is balanced out by the joy of having true love from family and friends.

Roadside Attractions and Gravitas Ventures released “Our Friend” in U.S. cinemas, on January 22, 2021, the same date that Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the movie on digital and VOD.

Review: ‘All My Life,’ starring Jessica Rothe, Harry Shum Jr., Kyle Allen, Chrissie Fit, Jay Pharoah, Marielle Scott and Keala Settle

Harry Shum Jr. and Jessica Rothe in “All My Life” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

“All My Life”

Directed by Marc Myers

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the dramatic film “All My Life” features a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Shortly after getting engaged to be married, a couple experiences a major health crisis that threatens the life of the man in the relationship.

Culture Audience: “All My Life” will appeal primarily to people who like predictable dramas about romances that are plagued by cancer.

Harry Shum Jr. and Jessica Rothe in “All My Life” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

The dramatic film “All My Life” (directed by Marc Myers) is one in a long list of sappy tearjerkers that’s more like a formulaic “disease of the week” movie made for television instead of a well-made cinematic experience that tells a story in a unique way. The city where “All My Life” takes place isn’t mentioned in the story, but the movie was filmed in New Orleans and has some very noticeable New Orleans landmarks. Even though “All My Life” is based on a true story, there’s something very phony and off-putting about this film that some viewers might notice, while others won’t.

If something seems “off” about this movie, that’s because there is something very unbalanced about it: The male partner in the relationship has a family who is never seen or mentioned. In fact, this whole movie seems designed to make the female partner in the relationship look like the well-rounded family person who’s practically saintly during this romance. She plays the role of “emotional rescuer” and “life coach” to her more insecure male partner, whose family background is of no concern to the filmmakers of “All My Life.”

The couple in this relationship happens to be interracial—she’s white and he’s Asian, just like the real-life couple—and their racial identities don’t have be the focal point of the story. But to completely erase any mention of him having a family—especially considering the life-threatening illness he experiences in the story—makes this “romantic” movie feel very one-sided and inauthentic. A culturally tone-deaf film like “All My Life” is one of the reasons why Asians are underrepresented in American-made entertainment.

The screenplay for “All My Life” (written by Todd Rosenberg) is also littered with so many lazy clichés that people who’ve seen enough of these types of hackneyed movies will already know exactly how this story is going to end even before it starts. “All My Life” is told from the perspective of the female protagonist Jennifer “Jenn” Carter (played by Jessica Rothe), which is obvious from the get-go because she’s the narrator in the voiceover that starts off the film. The romance of Jenn Carter and Solomon “Sol” Chau (played by Harry Shum Jr.) is at the center of the story.

At the beginning of the movie, Jenn is portrayed as a bright and energetic woman in her mid-20s who’s got a very busy life where she works and goes to school. But as is usually the narrative in hokey movies like this, her life is supposed to be “empty” until she’s found her one true love. In the voiceover, Jenn says that an average person lives 27,375 days (that’s 75 years, for anyone who doesn’t want to do the math), and she was living a routine life until something major happened to her. “I didn’t notice that my life was becoming a series of forgotten days,” she says in the tone of voice that might as well shout, “My life was boring until I fell in love!”

Jenn and Sol have their “meet cute” moment at a sports bar, where Jenn and her two best friends Amanda Fletcher (played by Chrissie Fit) and Megan Denhoff (played by Marielle Scott) have gone with the intention to just have one drink before heading somewhere else on their evening out. Jenn’s job is vaguely described in the movie (at one point in the story, she mentions to Sol that she works in “decoration”), and the movie never actually shows her working. She’s also studying to get her master’s degree in psychology. There’s a brief scene of her in a classroom.

The details of Amanda’s career are also not revealed, but apparently she works in some type of office job, because Jenn and Megan raise their drinks to her in a congratulatory toast for Amanda getting a promotion and a new assistant. Amanda is the sassiest of the three women, but she and Megan basically have sidekick roles in this story. Megan’s job is never really mentioned, but she seems to be some kind of event planner, because she does all the organizing of Jenn and Sol’s inevitable wedding. Sol and Jenn’s wedding is not a secret plot development, since it’s in shown in this movie’s trailer and other marketing materials for “All My Life.”

Back at the sports bar, the three female friends are immediately noticed by three male friends: Sol, who works in digital marketing; his best pal Dave Berger (played by Jay Pharoah), who’s a professional boxer; and Kyle Campbell (played by Kyle Allen), whose job is not mentioned in the film. The three men (who are all around the same age as the women) make their way over to the women’s table. There’s some mild flirting, but it’s clear that the most romantic sparks are flying between Jenn and Sol. Thankfully, there’s no “triple date” scenario in this movie, where all six of them unrealistically pair up into convenient couples.

Jenn and Sol quickly begin dating each other. For their first date, they go jogging together in a park. Sol has some pain near the right side of his waist, which foreshadows what’s to come later. He assumes it’s just a cramp and doesn’t think much of it, but it happens again later in the film.

Sol and Jenn’s romance is portrayed as very conventional, with a lot of tropes that have been seen before in similar movies: romantic dinners, getting caught in the rain during a date, and the couple having a signature song. For Sol and Jenn, their signature song is the Oasis hit “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (originally released in 1995), which they see a musical string trio perform in the park on their first date, and Sol begins singing along. People who are fans of Shum because of his role in the TV musical series “Glee” will get their big cheesy musical moment later in the movie.

Sol and Jenn eventually become lovers. There are no sex scenes in this very tame movie. Jenn and Sol are a believable couple together, but the way that they are written for this movie, they’re utterly predictable. And because this movie is hell-bent on denying that Sol has a family, his character comes across as someone who only exists to fulfill the romantic fantasies of Jenn. The limited way in which Sol’s character is written is a disservice to the real-life person.

One of the ways that the movie makes Sol a vessel for Jenn’s wish fulfillment is in how she steers him in another career direction. Sol hates his digital-marketing job because he has an overly demanding boss who makes him work long hours that go beyond his job description. Sol’s real passion and talent are in cooking. And he’s very good at it, based on the reactions he gets from people who eat any food that he prepares. But because Jenn is the “emotional rescuer” and “life coach” in this story, she spends a lot of time trying to convince Sol to leave his miserable job and become a restaurant chef.

Jenn’s older cousin Gigi Carter (played by Ever Carradine) conveniently owns a restaurant, and Jenn says that Gigi would love to hire Sol as a sous chef at the restaurant. Sol has some previous experience in food service, since he briefly worked part-time at a food truck. But he’s reluctant to become a full-time chef because he says that he doesn’t have formal training (even though it’s common knowledge that many professional chefs never went to culinary school) and he tells Jenn that he can’t afford to quit his digital-marketing job. As a solution, Jenn suggests that Sol move into her apartment to share expenses.

Sol and Jenn negotiate over their live-in arrangement, such as which types of furniture they will or won’t keep, and who will do the cooking and when. Jenn also tells Sol in a serious tone that she has one major condition of them being committed to living together: “Step up when it’s time to step up. Mistakes I can handle. Regrets I can’t live with.” Sol agrees to the terms that Jenn sets, because this movie is more concerned about Jenn’s thoughts and needs than Sol’s.

At first, things go well for Jenn and Sol. However, Jenn is dismayed that Sol’s office job has been making him so worn-down and exhausted that he seems to have lost interest in cooking. Jenn and Amanda come up with the idea for Sol to cook for the Thanksgiving dinner party that will be held at Sol and Jenn’s place. In addition to Sol and Jenn, the other people at the dinner party are some of their friends, Jen’s single mother Hope Marie Carter (played by Molly Hagen) and Jenn’s cousin Gigi, who owns the restaurant where Jenn thinks Sol should work.

It’s at this dinner where Gigi tastes Sol’s cooking for the first time and basically hires him on the spot. He agrees to work at Gigi’s restaurant as a sous chef. Jenn is thrilled because she knows that she was the driving force behind this life-changing decision for Sol. Because this Thanksgiving dinner party was for family and friends, it’s where observant viewers will really notice the big erasure of Sol’s family in this movie.

Jenn’s mother and cousin are in several scenes with Jenn, and all three of these family members are obviously a support system for each other. Jenn’s father is not seen or mentioned in the story. But what this movie leaves out is any explanation for why Sol’s entire family is never seen or mentioned in the story. Not once does Jenn seem curious about Sol’s family or interested in meeting them. Sol doesn’t mention them either because it’s obviously not in the screenplay.

And although “All My Life” is the type of movie that wants to be “color blind” by not mentioning anyone’s race, it actually seems racist to portray the Asian person in this couple as the one who doesn’t deserve to have any family background whatsoever. The filmmakers obviously didn’t want to cast any additional Asian people as Sol’s family members, but it wouldn’t have been so hard to at least mention why Sol doesn’t have family members to support him during his health crisis. Needless to say, there’s no mention of Sol having family members at his wedding either.

However, the movie does want to get some mileage out of Shum’s “Glee” fame, because Sol’s marriage proposal is an overblown musical scene right out of something that would be in “Glee.” At the same park where Sol and Jenn had their first date, Sol stages an elaborate presentation where he, all of their friends, that same musical string trio that Jen and Sol saw on their first date, as well several people who have never been seen before in the story, perform and sing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” to Jen. The proposal happens near a lake, so some people arrive by boat for this big musical number. Some anonymous spectators are part of this musical number too. It’s as cringeworthy and unrealistic as it sounds.

By the way, Keala Settle (of “The Greatest Showman” fame) has a small role as Viv Lawrence, who works at a vintage shop that sells clothing and some vinyl records. Sol goes in the store one day to look for a gift for Jenn. As he sifts through the crates of vinyl records, Viv recommends anything by Pat Benatar.

Viv tells Sol that Viv used to work in a nightclub where every time a band played the Pat Benatar song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” the crowd loved it. As soon as Viv says that, you know what’s coming later in the movie. And it does: Viv sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” at Sol and Jenn’s wedding.

Before the wedding happens, there’s a lot of turmoil because of the health crisis. Shortly after getting engaged, Sol wakes up drenched in sweat. He’s taken to a hospital and gets a diagnosis from his doctor Alan Mendolson (played by Dan Butler), who tells Sol and Jenn that Sol has a perforated ulcer. But then, the doctor breaks some news that’s much worse. Actually, its not a perforated ulcer. Sol has a cancerous tumor on his liver.

After surgery, Sol and Jenn are told (much to their great relief) that Sol is on track to make a full recovery. They want to get married in a back-patio area at Gigi’s restaurant, but event planner Megan thinks that this space is too small and not upscale enough. The debate over where Sol and Jenn will have their wedding becomes trivial when they get more bad news: Sol’s liver cancer has returned with vengeance. He’s given only six months to live.

When he was initially diagnosed, Sol told Jenn that if he ever gets a medical diagnosis that’s terminal, they should get a dog together. Jenn finds out that Sol’s medical condition has gotten worse when she comes home one day and sees that he’s gotten a dog, which he’s named Otis. Sol gives her the details of his terminal diagnosis.

Sol and Jenn are devastated, of course, and Sol eventually wants to cancel the wedding. Jenn disagrees and thinks that Sol is giving up too easily. Amanda and Megan come up with the idea to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for Sol and Jenn’s wedding and honeymoon. Amanda and Megan insist on it, and Sol and Jenn agree to this plan.

Mario Cantone has a small role in the movie as Jerome Patterson, the flamboyant manager of the sought-after venue that ends up being rented for the wedding ceremony and reception. Conveniently, there’s a sudden cancellation that allows Sol and Jenn to book the venue on very short notice. They plan to have their honeymoon in an unnamed tropical location that has all the characteristics of a dream vacation, including staying at an upscale beachside resort.

As the story goes on, Jenn is portrayed as someone who doesn’t seem to have any real flaws. Jenn has vulnerabilities (which are not the same as flaws), because there are the inevitable scenes where she wails and cries during the health crisis that shakes this fairytale romance to its core. At the same time, Jenn is portrayed as being the more “motivated” partner in the relationship. She’s the one who gives the pep talks for Sol to change careers and when Sol inevitably becomes pessimistic about his cancer.

Sol’s reaction plays into fairytale stereotypes that men are supposed to be stoic and not cry when they’re faced with having a terminal disease where there’s a high probability that they will die a very slow and painful death. But Sol, the sensitive romantic who pours out his emotions during an elaborate marriage proposal, never shows the emotional vulnerability of crying about his cancer. The most that he does is complain about all the side effects he gets from his cancer treatment. Of course, there isn’t one way that people are supposed to emotionally react to a cancer diagnosis, so Saul’s macho “I’m not going to cry” reaction shouldn’t be judged too harshly.

The movie depicts Jenn as vacillating between trying to lift Sol’s spirits and expecting him to coddle her when she wants to equate his pain with her pain. At one point in the movie, when Sol explains to Jenn that he can’t really think about anything except his cancer treatment’s painful side effects that he’s experiencing at that moment, Jenn makes a scolding remark along the lines of “We’re in this together!” It comes across as a bit insensitive on Jenn’s part, because Jenn’s not the one going through the physical trauma of cancer and the nauseating side effects of cancer treatment.

Although this movie doesn’t show Sol expressing any deep fear and gut-wrenching sadness (Jenn is the one who has the emotional meltdowns), there’s something that does ring true when it comes to some male emotional vulnerability shown in the story. Sol’s friend Kyle is somewhat of a generic character until it’s revealed that Kyle’s father died of a terminal illness. Sol’s diagnosis has triggered Kyle into having bad memories of watching his father slowly die, especially when Kyle goes to the hospital to visit Sol.

And the only way that Kyle knows how to cope is to start avoiding Sol, which he does for the majority of Sol’s cancer treatment. Kyle’s reaction is explained as being similar to having post-traumatic stress disorder. And it’s bad enough where Kyle doesn’t even want to be one of Sol’s groomsmen, although Kyle is still invited to the wedding. The movie shows whether or not Kyle will end up going to the wedding.

“All My Life” is supposed to be a romantic movie about a young and modern couple who go through a lot of turmoil leading up to their dream wedding, but there are some old-fashioned and backwards mindsets that stink up this movie, beginning with the erasure of the groom’s Asian family. There are also some sexist ways in how the gender roles for the couple are framed in the movie. Jenn’s career is barely given a thought, while there are plenty of scenes of Sol at work and a lot of emphasis on how his career is going.

After Jenn meets Sol, her scenes are almost always about the energy she puts into the relationship with Sol. It’s a very big gender imbalance in how these two people are portrayed, which is made all the more noticeable because Jenn doesn’t want to be a full-time homemaker. Yet her career goals are buried in the story, and she spends more time trying to help Sol in his career. It’s really the filmmakers’ way of saying that they don’t think Jenn’s career is as important as Sol’s.

Although the character of Jenn is supposed to have many melodramatic emotions in this movie, Rothe is very good at not going too over the top into campy territory. Her acting skills make the mushiness in the screenplay more tolerable than it should be. Shum is more hampered with playing a stilted character who has no backstory or fascinating character development, so there isn’t really anything he can do but play a character whose disease is often used as a stand-in for his personality.

Aside from erasing Sol’s family and erasing any depiction of Jenn actually working at a job that helps pay her bills, another omission that makes “All My Life” look very fake is that Jenn and Sol never talk about whether or not they want to have kids. Sol’s cancer diagnosis would definitely affect any family planning they might or nor might not have, but that’s an issue that’s unrealistically left out of the movie. Maybe it’s because if Jenn and Sol talked about having children, then it would remind viewers that Sol and Jenn’s kids would be biracial, and it would be more of a reason for people to notice that Sol’s family isn’t in this story.

“All My Life” is the type of movie that looks like it’s not worth paying extra money as a rental or a purchase but instead belongs on the Hallmark Channel or as part of a Netflix subscription. The cast members are serviceable in their acting roles, but the screenplay and direction are utterly in “hack” territory. Worst of all, the filmmakers went out of their way to erase some very realistic and interesting aspects of this real-life romance that could have made this movie stand out from all the “disease of the week” movies that are just like it.

Universal Pictures released “All My Life” in U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is December 23, 2020.

Review: ‘The Argument,’ starring Dan Fogler, Emma Bell, Danny Pudi, Maggie Q, Tyler James Williams and Cleopatra Coleman

September 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dan Fogler and Emma Bell in “The Argument” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“The Argument”

Directed by Robert Schwartzman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the romantic comedy “The Argument” features a racially diverse cast (white, black and Asian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A playwright and his actress girlfriend, with the help of some of their friends and random strangers, recreate an argument that the couple had to determine who was correct in the argument.

Culture Audience: “The Argument” will primarily appeal to people who like over-the-top, fast-paced comedies with many unrealistic moments but enough wacky sensibilities to keep people watching to see how it all ends.

Tyler James Williams and Cleopatra Coleman in “The Argument” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The absurdist romantic comedy “The Argument” will test the patience of many viewers who are looking for a more conventional way that love and relationships are depicted in the story’s plot. The movie suffers when the “repeat loop” part of the story is focused only on the six main characters. But “The Argument” is at its best during “casting session/script reading” scenes in the last third of the movie, when random strangers are introduced to the main characters and turn the movie into many laugh-out-loud moments that are sly commentaries about ego posturing and stereotypes in relationships.

Directed with a madcap pace by Robert Schwartzman and written by Zac Stanford, “The Argument” (which takes place in Los Angeles) centers on an artistic couple named Jack (played by Dan Fogler) and Lisa (played by Emma Bell), who live together in a modest Hollywood home. Jack is a playwright/screenwriter, and Lisa is an actress. They’ve been dating each other for three years.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Jack and Lisa met through a fairly obscure horror movie that Jack wrote called “The Dead Doth Trod the Hills at Night.” Lisa had a small background role as a zombie in the movie. Jack’s most recent project is an independent play called “Wolfgang,” which has Lisa as the leading female role of Constanze, the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The play has a modern comedic tone to it, and it’s recently ended its run at a small theater. Based on the number of people in the audience for the last show, the play’s attendance was fairly good, but not great.

The biggest problem that Jack had with the play is how Lisa and the vain actor who was cast as Mozart seemed just a little too flirtatious with each on stage and off stage. The actor’s name is Paul (played by Tyler Christopher Williams), and Jack is jealous because Paul is younger and better-looking than Jack is. Jack’s suspicion that Lisa and Paul are sexually attracted to each other is a nagging thought that he’s kept to himself, but it later explodes in messy and uncomfortable ways in other parts of the story.

Now that the play is over, Jack thinks he and Lisa won’t have to deal with Paul anymore. After the last night of “Wolfgang,” Jack plans to have a small cocktail party at his and Lisa’s home. Jack has invited his and Lisa’s two closest friends—married couple Brett and Sarah—to celebrate.

Brett (played by Danny Pudi) is Jack’s eager-to-please literary agent. Sarah (played by Maggie Q) is an entertainment lawyer with an icy demeanor and a photographic memory. Jack has another intention for the party, which is pretty obvious in the message that he sends to Brett and Sarah: Jack is going to propose to Lisa.

When Sarah and Brett show up for the party, Brett is happy to be there, but Sarah seems very uninterested. She explains that she has to get up early in the morning because she has an important contract negotiation meeting the next day. Sarah was the attorney who negotiated the overseas rights to “The Dead Doth Trod the Hills at Night,” but she’s frustrated that Jack hasn’t been a lucrative client for Brett.

Sarah blames Jack and Brett for Jack not being able to get much work as a writer. None of Jack’s screenplays has sold since “The Dead Doth Trod the Hills at Night.” Sarah thinks that Jack isn’t very talented and that Brett isn’t a great agent. By contrast, Brett is in awe of Jack and isn’t ready to give up on him so easily. At one point during the party, Brett gushes in Jack’s presence that Jack “isn’t just a great writer … he’s a genius.”

The party is interrupted by two guests whom Jack did not expect: Paul and his ditzy Australian girlfriend Trina (played by Cleopatra Coleman), who soon finds out that she’s not the only one who’s suspected that there’s been sexual tension between Paul and Lisa. Jack is very surprised to see Paul and Trina at his door, but he lets them in because he doesn’t want to be rude and because he finds out that Lisa invited them.

Jack takes Lisa aside for a private conversation in their dining room, and they briefly argue about Paul being at the party. (Observant viewers might notice that the dining room walls in the movie have posters of Schwartzman’s first two movies that he directed: 2016’s “Dreamland” and 2018’s “The Unicorn.”) Lisa insists that she told Jack in advance that Paul would be there. Jack is equally insistent that Lisa never told him, because if she had, he would’ve remembered. They reach a stalemate but agree that Paul might as well stay at the party.

As the party goes on, Jack gets more and more irritated because Lisa and Paul keep re-enacting flirtatious and sexually suggestive scenes from the play in front of everyone. Lisa and Paul think it’s hilarious, but Jack obviously doesn’t. Meanwhile, Sarah looks very bored, Brett tries to keep things friendly with everyone, and Trina starts drinking enough alcohol to get tipsy and overly talkative. Trina mentions that she and Paul (who has a day job as a fitness instructor) got together as a couple because she signed up for one of his fitness classes, in the hopes that he would notice her and want to date her.

It turns out that Trina is a big fan of “The Dead Doth Trod the Hills at Night” and she actually remembers Lisa’s role in the film. Trina gushes like a fangirl about the movie, which endears her to Jack and Lisa. However, Paul continues to get on Jack’s nerves. When Jack serves a charcuterie board at the party, Paul says he can’t eat almost anything that’s served at the party because he’s a vegan and he’s on a strict diet for a fitness commercial that he’s about to film. Jack is also baking an apple pie, which he plans to serve as dessert.

As the night wears on, Paul and Trina grow more uncomfortable with Lisa and Paul’s flirtatious shenanigans in front of everyone. Jack starts rambling about Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s rival who was famously jealous of Mozart’s talent, fame and accolades. Lisa makes a seemingly innocuous remark that Jack “isn’t really comfortable with the word ‘genius.'”

Jack interprets the comment to mean that Lisa doesn’t think that Jack isn’t very smart, so he shouts at her, “That’s not funny!” The argument between Jack and Lisa escalates to the point when Jack ends up taking the apple pie out of the oven and throws it on the ground. And the party abruptly ends.

The next morning, Jack and Lisa are in bed and they continue to argue about what happened the previous night. “I wish I could redo the whole night so you could see how wrong you are!” Lisa shouts. Jack says the same thing to her. And then they have an “aha” moment and decide to recreate the party and have the guests decide if Jack or Lisa was the one was in the wrong.

The middle section of “The Argument” is a little hard to take because of the shrill and annoying ways that the party is recreated. Because the movie makes it clear from the beginning that it’s an absurdist comedy, viewers will have to suspend their disbelief that Jack and Lisa’s party guests have nothing better to do with their time than go through with these ridiculous re-enactments. Trina shows up hung over, and she reluctantly agrees to get drunk again for every re-enactment. Jack even goes as far as preparing the same food over and over again every time they do a re-enactment.

Of course, the re-enactments don’t go smoothly because no one (except for Sarah, who has a photographic memory) can remember exactly how they acted and what they said the first time the party happened. Because everyone goes “off-script” at one point or another, it leads to more tension and arguments.

Sarah’s jaded attitude becomes even more apparent when Trina says being an entertainment lawyer must be glamorous, and Sarah’s deadpan response is, “It’s just a job. I don’t even like movies.” Eventually, Sarah gets fed up with the re-enactments and leaves.

“The Argument” finally starts to improve in the last third of the movie, when the party guests find out that Jack has put an ad on Craiglist to get actors (whose character names are not revealed in the movie) to come to his and Lisa’s home and to portray the party guests during these re-enactments, with the original party guests (except for Sarah) in attendance. Jack has even written a script, which is heavily skewed with his biased perspective.

The actors who answered the Craigslist ad have been told that it’s supposed to be an audition/read-through, with Jack being the one to decide who will play which role. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Jack casts the best-looking “hunky” guy of the auditionees to portray Jack, who’s written as the hero of the story. (The role of Actor Jack is played by Mark Ryder.)

Actor Trina is an ultra-liberal, ultra-politically correct African American activist (played by Marielle Scott), who over-exaggerates and bungles the real Trina’s Australian accent, which offends Trina. Actor Lisa (played by Charlotte McKinney) is a big-breasted blonde who has her bikini photos on hand, while Lisa is offended that Jack wants a “bimbo” to portray her.

Actor Brett (played by Karan Brar) pretty much agrees with everyone, while the real Brett is offended that he’s being portrayed as a pushover without a mind of his own. Meanwhile, since Sarah isn’t there, Jack decides that Actor Brett can use a sock puppet to portray Sarah. Actor Paul (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is a loudmouth wannabe rapper (who wears gold chains), which offends the real Paul, who’s nothing like this walking racial stereotype, but Actor Paul ends up upstaging everyone in the room.

What Jack has written in the script is read aloud by the auditionees to hilarious results, because it reveals Jack’s perceptions and opinions of everyone at the party. If this “script reading” part of the plot had been put earlier in the movie, the quality of “The Argument” would have been much higher.

Fogler and Coleman handle the slapstick scenes fairly well, while Williams makes great use of facial expressions. All of the actors playing the “auditionees” are very good and bring much-needed spark to the movie. Stewart-Jarrett is the movie’s biggest scene stealer, since he’s easily the funniest part of this movie, whose comedic scenes are hit and miss.

Fogler, Bell, Pudi, Q, Williams and Coleman are talented, but the way the characters are written tend to become one-note caricatures by the middle of the film. Having other actors come into the story to portray those characters is a clever send-up that works well. The discomfort that the real Jack, Lisa, Brett, Paul and Trina feel at seeing how other people portray them is actually funny, whereas the original argument between Lisa and Jack wasn’t that funny. There’s an almost British sensibility to this “script within a script” parody.

Because director Schwartzman moves the pace of “The Argument” along fairly quickly, it’s easier to take the cringeworthy aspects of the movie. For example, some of the people in “The Argument” over-act—and not in a good way that was intended by the screenplay. And there’s some physical comedy that could have been choreographed better.

The Jack character can be very grating with his “control freak” insecurities and insistence on always being right. Lisa is also irritating with her tendency to be self-absorbed and not very empathetic to other people’s feelings. Some viewers might find it hard to root for this couple.

“The Argument” can best be appreciated when the main characters (and their flaws) are put up to a proverbial mirror and they see how complete strangers (who are wannabe actors) perceive and act out their personalities. Sarah eventually finds out that Jack cast her as a sock puppet, and so her reaction (which isn’t as funny as it could’ve been) is also part of the movie’s plot. If people are willing to keep watching “The Argument” until the “script reading” scenes, it will be worth the wait, because those scenes redeem what could have been a completely annoying movie.

Gravitas Ventures released “The Argument” on digital and VOD on September 4, 2020.