Film Review: We Need to Talk About MY FRIEND DAHMER (LAFF 2017)

My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Written by Marc Meyers (based on the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf)
Directed by Marc Meyers
Produced by Marc Meyers, Milan Chakraborty, Jody Girgenti, Adam Goldworm and Michael Merlob
1 hr 47 min, rated R

Who better to write about Jeffrey Dahmer than a high school friend? While a pre-serial killer graphic novel seems like a cash-in on a depraved man who killed 17 people (it is), it also helps humanize a character so disturbed even he couldn’t explain his actions. In My Friend Dahmer (the film adaptation of the graphic novel), director Marc Meyers explores Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years.

Portraying the serial killer at his most human is Disney Channel escapee Ross Lynch. He’s a marvel in the film. Never more so than in his quiet moments where he leaves you wondering if Jeff’s about to explode. Also remarkable is the vulnerability he brings out in Jeff as the class clown/weirdo. When he spazzes out in public, a group of guys take a liking to him and deem themselves the “Jeff Dahmer fan club.”

While they hang out and basically ignore Jeff, he says he wishes they could be his friends. In addition to trying to fit in, he copes with bullies at school. He manages to escape abuse from the jocks by ignoring a fellow gay classmate’s pleas for help. Ultimately, he still has to confront his own homosexuality. Over time, his fascination with dead things and his desire for men become inextricably linked.

Throughout the film, Jeff has to cope with his unhinged family life. His mother was just released from the mental hospital and his dad is a busy chemist. That might be where Jeff got his interest in biology from. While his dad tries his best to help Jeff (by telling him to bulk up so he can make friends), his mother only has time to fight with his dad and ignore her son. Meanwhile, he sinks deeper into his own illness accompanied by heavy alcohol abuse.

When she does express an interest in him, she’s lost in her own delusion. Derf (played by Alex Wolff), one of his new friends, visits his house during one of his mother’s episodes. She proceeds to get him confused with another person and he becomes uncomfortable. Anne Heche plays Joyce and owns the role (and her wig). She based her performance on her real mother and paints a true portrait of a mentally ill woman.

When she becomes too difficult to care for, Jeff’s dad Lionel (played by Dallas Roberts) decides to get a divorce. As his home life deteriorates, so does Jeff’s mental health. After dealing with his fractured family, school shenanigans and the activation of his sexual desires, Jeff is no longer able to control his sick compulsion.  It’s in the car scene that Derf finally realizes how dangerous Jeff can be. In real life, Derf has stated that he never felt like he was in danger around Jeff. Though fictional, it’s still an affecting scene.

In the end, many different factors could’ve contributed to what Jeffrey Dahmer became, from his friends using him to his alcoholism to his mother’s inability to help him to his dad’s inability to understand him to his parents’ divorce and abandonment. My Friend Dahmer does it’s best to portray him as the fragile young man he was and largely succeeds due to a captivating performance by Lynch. Director Marc Meyers does an excellent job balancing Jeff’s family woes with his high school tribulations. If you have even the slightest curiosity to watch a biography on Dahmer, I highly recommend this one. Bonus points for shooting in Dahmer’s actual childhood home. Now, that’s dedication.

My Friend Dahmer, which screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival last week, will be coming out in the fall. For the latest updates, visit the movie’s Twitter account.

 

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