Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Miles Robbins, Vincent Kartheiser
Written by: Marc Meyers, based on a graphic novel by Derf Backderf
Directed by: Marc Meyers
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity
Running Time: 107
Date: 11/03/2017

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pre-Kill Student

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Marc Meyers, this biographical drama walks a fine line between ridicule and morbidity, and maintains a humane balance, exploring this disturbed character in an empathetic way.

In My Friend Dahmer, lonely outcast teen Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) hadn't yet become an infamous serial killer (portrayed by Jeremy Renner in the 2002 movie Dahmer). In 1978, he's a senior in high school, interested in finding roadkill carcasses and dissolving them in jars of acid. After meeting his mother's palsied interior designer, he starts performing "spaz attacks" at school, which endears him to cartoonist Derf (Alex Wolff). Derf enjoys pushing Dahmer into more "performances," but still seems to like him.

Meanwhile, Dahmer's parents are divorcing, his emotionally unstable mother (Anne Heche) doesn't seem to care about him, and he becomes attracted to a male doctor (Vincent Kartheiser), whose indifference awakens violent tendencies. He begins drinking regularly and his behavior grows increasingly erratic — he invites a girl to prom and leaves her there to go and eat fast food — all of which leads up to his first homicidal impulse.

In My Friend Dahmer, star Ross Lynch, known for his Disney Channel appearances, hides behind a mop of hair and huge, clunky glasses, walking stiffly and clenched as if afraid of the very air itself. He gives a strong performance, finding the hurt, fear, frustration, and power that drives him to his ultimate fate.

The 1970s design is incredibly effective, tapping into the era's uneasy meeting of establishment (Neil Sedaka) and rebellion (the Ramones). Adapted from a graphic novel written by the real-life Derf, the movie doesn't really capitalize on the "my friend" portion of the story.

The focus is on Dahmer, and the Derf character nicely avoids becoming a typical "writer" character, a passive observer; he's more of a catalyst here. Director Meyers also avoids cutesy attempts to tie the movie into its comic origins; there are no weird effects or comic panels. It's a weird movie, but every effort goes into finding a legitimate center. It opens November 3, 2017, at the Roxie Cinema.

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