My Friend Dahmer Reviews
Genuinely uncomfortable but engaging watching throughout makes this a must see. Yet another example of when great performances + script trumps big budget CGI any time.
It's also difficult to see what Meyers was trying to achieve; other than a couple of brief moments, we're never given any real access to Dahmer's interiority, so he remains an enigma, always at arm's length (which could have been the point). But is Meyers asking us to feel sympathy for Dahmer because he had a difficult adolescence, came from a broken home, couldn't make friends in school (i.e., to quote that great line from Michael Mann's Manhunter - "my heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks"). Or is this simply a character study (if we didn't know it was about Dahmer, it could be any number of examinations of high school awkwardness)?
The lack of clarity regarding the film's theme is compounded by the scenes where it looks as if Dahmer is about to murder someone, only to stop at the last second. This is an especially strange way to generate tension, insofar as we already know his first murder was Hicks. Also, if the film is actually trying to say something of societal worth regarding serial killers, directionless youth, nature vs. nuture etc, trying to draw an audience into the narrative with the prospect of murder probably isn't the way to go about it. The film also fails to really get into the issues of Dahmer's sexuality, and his confusion and frustration about being gay. It's worth a look, but if you're already familiar with Dahmer's story, you won't find much insight here.
Having read the graphic novel this movie is based on, I came into it with my own biases and expectations, so a lot of my problems with this movie stem from that.
While the casting and raw content of this movie are very competent and fitting, they way they were set to motion through Dahmer's story was a bit lackluster. Too many times it felt like the movie died down to a dry "we gotta have this moment here" scene that was acted out kind of lifelessly, and fit into the movie very rigidly. A sort of check-list feeling was created by these scenes. It felt like a major issue was the editing of all the content together. It rarely meshed well, even though it technically followed the graphic novel pretty accurately.
Another issue that held this movie back, in my opinion, was the lack of any sort of narrations or input from John Backderf's character in this movie. I mean the title is from John's point of view, and the entire graphic novel is filled with his thoughts and words to guide us along. Fitting narration could've done much to help this movie mesh better with itself, would've helped it flow better, feel more natural as a tale from John's point of view. His character in this movie would benefit the entire project much more had it been more fleshed out, and more prominent. As this movie stands right now, it feels a little hollow.
Other than that, and some other slight changes to the novel which didn't bother me that much, the movie was fine for what it achieved at the end. The acting by the main guy was great, felt like the nuances of a teenage Dahmer were shown realistically and faithfully. Good job by him.
The things I liked the most about this movie were the occasional moments of painful brilliance like during the mall freakout scene and the photo "adjustment" scene. Those moments managed to convey the entire thesis of Backderf's tale in those small moments. It felt good to see that message of the original graphic novel left intact.
Overall, I enjoyed it.