Rated R for disturbing imagery, language, and nudity. What's interesting about My Friend Dahmer, considering its subject matter, is that we never actually witness any of his murders. He fantasizes about murder. We see his rough treatment of animals. But the movie goes out of its way not to show him physically harming anyone. There's some really uncomfortable sexuality in the movie as well. Straight up R.
DIRECTOR: Marc Meyers
I wasn't going for disturbing when I watched this. My wife wanted to show our kids Teen Beach Movie, starring Ross Lynch. There was a moment in our history where we knew who all the Disney Channel kids were. My wife really went deep down that hole. It made sense. The content was appropriate for our daughter, the only one born at the time. She also has a thing for musicals. But since then, Ross Lynch went onto do a movie about a serial killer before he was a serial killer. While popping my head from time-to-time during Teen Beach Movie, I became really curious to see what Ross Lynch did with this movie.
The big pull that my wife kept mentioning that Ross Lynch wasn't great. Yeah, he's not amazing. But I also have to say that his part kind of calls for a very specific kind of acting that doesn't really give a lot of range. I don't know if this is something that Lynch chose to do with his character or what. But Dahmer is borderline Napoleon Dynamite. I actually made that crack and there were times that I wanted to edit in Ross Lynch's Jeffrey Dahmer into Napoleon Dynamite. I think that Lynch probably nailed exactly what was given to him. There are moments that felt a bit artificial. The entire film is based on Derf Backderf's graphic memoir of his time knowing Dahmer. The movie is both sympathetic and cold towards the character. It makes a very tough line to take because the movie asks us to treat Dahmer like a human being. Backderf kind of places a lot of the responsibility on himself for how Dahmer turned out. It follows the false-friend trope. Honestly, for being an adaptation of a memoir, the film really is just Carrie with real people. That comparison works kind of amazingly because Jeffrey Dahmer is kind of treated like he has power. He's is somehow a force of nature that everyone doesn't realize that they are toying with. If you sat down and watched Carrie right now, you'd realize that everyone is kind of poking this bear that could wreck them all. The reason that you watch Carrie is because you know that the ending is coming. She is able to destroy everything in sight and you watch the dramatic irony unfold. The same thing holds true for My Friend Dahmer. The Dahmer Fan Club are just messing with this kid would slaughter seventeen or eighteen people. We in the audience know that. From their perspective, Jeff Dahmer is just a weird kid who fakes having seizures and makes fun of the mentally handicapped to get attention. It's such a weird relationship that the Dahmer Fan Club has with Jeff. Throughout the film, they are constantly stating that they don't understand Dahmer. They are always with "What's his deal?" I don't really know if the film actually settles the debate of what the boys were to Dahmer. The film is named My Friend Dahmer. He often hangs out with them. But at the end of the day, the boys have private conversations about him without him there. They discuss whether or not they had gone too far in what they get Jeffrey to do. I don't know how the movie really pulls this off, but they come across as both good guys and bad guys at the same time. Like, Backderf hangs out with him one on one. Backderf, according to his own memoir I guess, is the de facto leader of this group. He is kind of picking on him, but he's also hanging out with him. Perhaps a lot of this comes from the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer occasionally has really weird reactions to normal situations. There's this point in the movie where they boys are all fishing. One of the boys stresses that the fish have to be thrown back and Jeff just carves it up with a pocketknife. He doesn't even do it to clean the fish. Rather, he slashes at it like a maniac. The fact that Jeff is there and fishing like a normal kid makes me believe that he is honestly and unironically part of the group. But then he does stuff like that and it seems like the boys are just hanging out with him because he's kind of a freakshow.
The movie definitely plays up the idea that you have to have a working knowledge of who Jeffrey Dahmer was. My wife and I both regularly confuse Jeffrey Dahmer with Ted Bundy. (I know! Right! We're such n00bz!) I won't lie, a quick glance at his Wikipedia page definitely helps. There's a lot of stuff in the movie that we weren't sure what the point was until we read some details about him. The biggest one is his fascination with Vincent Kartheiser's character. Playing with reality often creates a sense of confusion when it comes to stuff like this. Because we often see through Dahmer's fantasies, it is confusing to see where lines blur. Like I mentioned, we never actually see Dahmer kill anyone. But we didn't know that when we were watching the movie. For all we know, the entire final act was going to just be a bloodbath. So when we see Dahmer cradling the doctor's body, how were we supposed to know that it was a fantasy. There's a couple moments like that. There's a scene where Dahmer is hiding his fingers because there is blood on them. We never see where that blood came from. He calls it paint. I mean, it could have been paint. The only reason that we don't think it is paint is because we know the truth about Jeffrey Dahmer. I find it interesting the way that the story is told because of this. I want to read Backderf's book before making any firm statements, but the layout of the story is odd. If the entire movie is about Backderf's friendship with Dahmer, we only have Backderf fear Dahmer in the final scene with him. It almost feels like the final moment between the two of them was planted in his memory once Dahmer was caught. The entire thing could have been about suspicion and red flags. Instead, the movie is really about these guys hanging out with a big weirdo. What are the odds that Backderf's final interaction was one where he almost died. Dahmer is holding the bat outside of his car. Did Backderf just use the force or his spider-sense to know that something was up? I honestly beleive that something like that scene happened. But the scene is injected with the dramatic irony losing its secrecy. It's very fun as an audience member. But I also have to wonder if this is an element of memory. Has he made this moment sacred? Has his memory imbued with details that didn't happen? Those two hung out a lot. They never really had a firm falling out. Why would Jeffrey Dahmer murder him in that moment? I mean, he was nuts and I believe that it could have happened. But it also is a nice cap on the the entire film.
Can I talk about a performance that may be changing my mind about an actress that I've been ho-hum about? Anne Heche as Joyce Dahmer is inspired. I kind of want to see a spinoff movie just called "Joyce Dahmer." Golly, if this wasn't a memoir, I would find that story actually more interesting. The movie never posits that Joyce Dahmer's decision made Jeffrey Dahmer. I don't know much about psychology, but I get the vibe that it takes at least some degree of biology to make someone into a Jeffrey Dahmer. But I think a lot of these stories deal with some degree of mental illness. Taking the film from Joyce Dahmer's perspective, the film actually does a lot to talk about the frustrations that come with psychosis. We often get the noble and powerful survivor of mental illness. There's always a Patch Adams element to the whole thing. But My Friend Dahmer kind of tells the story that I find far more interesting. Joyce Dahmer had some kind of mental break. She was out of the hospital one months since the film started. She's not evil. She's not even overplaying crazy. But rather, she is eccentric. She is convinced that she is right. And most of all, she has no way to effectively communicate her frustrations. Couple this with Jeffrey, who has very different exhibited behavior. While Joyce is vocal and loud and frustrated, we juxtapose that with Jeffrey, who goes undiagnosed. He is in his cabin, melting roadkill like the future serial killer he is. But from an outside perspective, he's just running away from the chaos that is his house. Heck, I love the fact that Dad blames himself for all of this. A biologist and chemist himself, he sees Jeffrey as running away into what he himself ran away into when he was younger. When he brings a set of weights, it rang remarkably true. He wanted him to do something positive. It is so odd because Dad comes off as kind of an overbearing idiot. But there are lots of moments in the film that I don't know how I would have handled it differently. He sees all these toxic behaviors and nothing is changing for the better. So he makes these drastic decisions and it just comes across badly. The family dynamic, shy of the little brother not getting any attention from either the parents or the film, is perfect. I mean, the little kid has to eat bloody chicken. "We eat our mistakes." But besides that, it makes for a really interesting dynamic. No wonder that people could write off Dahmer's eccentricity. His family was going through a divorce. His mom was this poison in the house. His dad kept on making desperate choice after desperate choice. Yeah, I wouldn't blame anyone's odd behavior if they were going through with that.
One scene was injected with importance and I don't know if it really works. The mall scene doesn't really do anything for me. This is apparently the prom scene from Carrie for the film. It is the scene where they push him too far. The thing about it is...he was that far beforehand. If anything, he was just getting paid to do all this ridiculous stuff at the mall. But Jeffrey Dahmer was doing all of that weird stuff unprovoked beforehand. I don't know why the film decided to tell me that the mall was the most important part of his character development. It's good scene and it's well filmed, but a lot of the weight of the movie depends on this scene. It really can't hold it because it doesn't really have the content to do so. It's a bummer because the movie really needed to have that cathartic moment and it doesn't really have it.
My wife didn't love the movie. Considering that she was always into true crime stuff, I thought she would really dig it. I enjoyed the film a lot. Yeah, Ross Lynch is a weird choice for this. I can't even really blame him because a lot of the film is just voice and mannerisms. There's not a lot of subtlety to the characters. It's a lot like Rain Man. People loved Dustin Hoffman's performance, but I think that a part like Raymond and Jeffrey are about voices and mannerisms. In this case, it is probably more noticable. But I think that the movie works as a whole. It is awkward. It is gross. But it also did what it was supposed to do.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.