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film review

Jason Segel stars in director Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Our Friend.CLAIRE FOLGER/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

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  • Our Friend
  • Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • Written by Brad Ingelsby
  • Starring Jason Segel, Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson
  • Classification R; 124 minutes

The new drama Our Friend poses two important questions: Where has Jason Segel been hiding these past few years? And how much on-screen pain and suffering can moviegoers take?

The two queries aren’t necessarily related, as Segel is one of the few bright spots in director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s stretched-out cancer drama. Playing the titular best buddy of surly journalist Matt (Casey Affleck) and sunny regional-theatre actress Nicole (Dakota Johnson) who drops everything to help the couple and their two kids deal with Nicole’s terminal cancer diagnosis, Segel expends all the rumpled charm and warmth that made his work in The Muppets, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man so memorable. Heck, I’ll even go to bat for Segel in the mostly unloved The Five-Year Engagement.

The actor cuts a relatable, lovable, lumbering aw-shucks screen presence – which is why it’s been so puzzling that Segel has only made a handful of small, barely noticed indies between now and his last big performance, 2015′s David Foster Wallace drama The End of the Tour. I can only assume that Segel saw something profound in screenwriter Brad Ingelsby’s adaptation of Matthew Teague’s touchingly weepy Esquire essay that got lost and muddled along the way. Because the resulting film, while sporadically affecting, is ultimately a slog of gooey sentiment and needlessly long death rattles.

Perhaps the drama would have been easier to digest if Ingelsby and Cowperthwaite hadn’t decided to slice and dice their story’s timeline to the point of incomprehensibility. While Teague’s feature unfolds in a largely chronological order, Our Friend hopscotches around time, offering not especially helpful title cards denoting how far or not we’re into Nicole’s diagnosis. While this back-and-forth technique can work (see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women), here it only alienates, turning characters into question marks.

Late in the film, the reliably blunt Cherry Jones pops up as a hospice nurse promising the emotionally exhausted Dane and Matt that “we’re almost at the end.” She’s lying, though. It takes Our Friend a whole 20 more minutes to wrap up.

Our Friend is available digitally on-demand, including Rogers On Demand and Apple TV/iTunes, starting Jan. 22

In the interest of consistency, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s choice designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)