My Friend Dahmer Plot Summary:
Based on the true story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s (Ross Lynch) teenage years in high school before he became one of the most notorious serial killers of all time.
As I watched My Friend Dahmer, I thought to myself halfway through, “Geez, maybe I should just watch Thor again.” While this was #6 on my most anticipated Fall Movies list, it’s a strange experience. I’m sitting in a theater watching an origin movie about one of the sickest men in recent history. It’s eerie and uncomfortable. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Director Marc Meyers delivers a flawed product. At times, this is a brilliant exploration into the mind of someone you really don’t want to understand. It’s also an unnecessarily slow and repetitive burn. If there’s one reason for seeing this movie though, it is for the absolutely towering performance that is Ross Lynch.
Lynch won’t be nominated for an Oscar. It’s hard to fathom the guy playing Jeffrey Dahmer being up for an award. It’s a thankless job. It’s one of those performances Ross Lynch’s agent can say, “Hey, look what this guy did. Cast him.” If I had to describe his performance in one word, it would be impressive. There’s a complexity to Lynch’s performance that is almost effortless.
If there’s one specific moment I had to single out, it would be Dahmer’s obsession with a runner (Vincent Kartheiser) who passes by his street three days a week. The look on Lynch’s face as he shakes while deciding whether or not he’s going to attack this guy is next level acting. He’s scary, but offers an unsettling vulnerability at the same time. There are moments like that all throughout this film.
In playing Jeffrey Dahmer, Lynch has to convey that feeling like he could pop at any moment, almost like he’s a one-man horror film. Lynch also shines in the simple moments. Whether it’s the pain of feeling neglect from his parents, or when his friends only hang out with him because he acts like a complete buffoon is where the director tries to elicit something that isn’t sympathy or understanding, but a lesson of how this guy came to be.
Dahmer’s family life certainly has turmoil. His mother, Joyce, played by Anne Heche, has a mental illness of her own. Heche is also superb, playing a mother you feel bad for at times, but also despise with every fiber in your being. When Dahmer is about to graduate from high school, his mother completely discards him like a piece of uneaten pizza crust. The film is smart enough to offer a nonchalant motherly “Bye, honey” afterthought line as she drives away from Jeffrey, which is almost worse than if she had said nothing.
Dallas Roberts is also effective as Jeffrey’s dad, Lionel, who’s more genuine about wanting to help his son, but can certainly be misguided in how he handles Jeffrey’s weird obsessions with roadkill and studying animal bones.
When Dahmer tries to break out of his shell at school he explodes into spaz out moments. This gets him the attention of three classmates who find him amusing, even forming a fan club in his honor. They only hang out with him for pure entertainment value. As the school year goes on, Jeffrey slowly realizes this. The film is smart though. His friends aren’t complete jackasses, and are even nice to the guy. They are regular kids, just immature, and don’t know any better until it’s too late.
The real problem with this movie is how repetitive it is in driving these points home.There are only so many scenes where Jeffrey’s parents argue while he sits there looking sullen, or reluctantly performing like a dancing monkey in public. And as great as Lynch is, Meyers doesn’t give him a lot to work with. A lot of these scenes are just too similar.
Despite the repetitiveness, there are certain moments where Meyers deeply leaves an impression. Watching Jeffrey go to prom makes you shudder. On the surface, it’s an awkward teenager trying to dance with his date. Even if this was about a fictional character, it still would have looked off, which speaks to the effectiveness of the scene. The fact that you know it’s a young Jeffrey Dahmer adds a whole other layer to it. There’s another moment like this in a Doctor’s office that is flat out creepy.
Where the film is also genius is you never see Jeffrey Dahmer become Jeffrey Dahmer. You only see inklings. Whenever he’s about to do something evil, the movie stops short. Two scenes in particular achieve this very well. One is between Jeffrey and Derf, played by Alex Wolff, who’s the defacto leader of Dahmer’s goofy friends. Dahmer tries to connive Derf to have a beer with him. It’s a sequence that makes you nervous as hell. The other cringe worthy moment is with a dog, which is when they incorporate score into the movie for the first time. It’s exceptionally well placed.
If you really appreciate great acting, I’d recommend this film, but it’s certainly not a pleasant experience with the knowledge that you’re watching the birth of a horrible human being. While inconsistent, Marc Meyers certainly shows a lot of talent. There aren’t any cheap artistic tricks here. He creates the perfect mood for this type of movie.
While the subject matter is unsettling, it’s hard to argue this isn’t a well-made movie.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)