Tragedies are the most human of stories
This past weekend I saw Our Friend, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film adaptation of Matthew Teague’s beloved Atlantic essay, “The Friend.”
I was blown away.
The filmmaking itself was only slightly above functional, allowing the focus to fall on lead actors Casey Affleck and Jason Segel, who both give tour-de-force performances that, in this writer’s opinion, should have been nominated for Oscars.
The premise is fairly simple: when a couple with two children learns that the mother (the excellent Dakota Johnson) has terminal cancer, their shared best friend Dane (Segel, here in the performance of his lifetime) puts his life on hold, moves to Atlanta, and does everything he can to help out.
It’s the saddest, most emotional film I’ve seen in at least a year, probably since Affleck’s last classic performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s all-time-great Manchester by the Sea, and yet almost no one saw it (mostly due to COVID killing theaters).
Before the film even ended, I realized that I was going to have to watch it again immediately.
And ever since I did rewatch it, I’ve been wondering why I have such strong responses to drama and tragedy. Or, more so, why does it seem as if most people don’t have much interest in tragedy/drama these days.
People like true crime. People like superheroes. People like horror. People like comedy. People like cheesy crime and hospital shows. But it seems people steer clear of tragedy far more than they used to, and that’s a bummer.
The reason I enjoy tragedy so much is very simple: when done right, it’s the art that feels most human to me. And that’s how I felt as I watched Casey Affleck and Jason Segel in Our Friend.
I highly recommend checking out this gem of a film and, if you enjoy it, I’d suggest watching either The End of the Tour — starring Segel in an incredible dramatic performance — or the above mentioned Manchester by the Sea.
And because you’re reading ScreenTime, I’m now going to offer up a list of ten of my favorite modern tragic films, Titanic not included.
In fact, lots of films are not included. The list is specifically a collection of human stories that, in addition to being tragic, also do not have a happy ending (so no Moonlight, for example) and are not highly produced pieces of cinema (e.g. Requiem for a Dream, Gone Girl).
These are just sad, human stories. That’s it, Ingmar Bergman style. Here we go, in no order:
1. Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee)
2. Breaking the Waves (dir. Lars Von Trier)
3. Philadelphia (dir. Jonathan Demme)
4. Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh)
5. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)
6. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)
7. Last Days (dir. Gus Van Sant)
8. Snow Angels (dir. David Gordon Green)
9. Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
10. House of Sand and Fog (dir. Vadim Perelman)
Bonus: We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
What did I forget? Hit me up at email@example.com with your list!