Jeffrey Dahmer isn’t a very nice man.
In fact, he is one of the most violent and sadistic men to ever walk this Earth. Not only did he rape and murder 17 men and young boys but he kept their skulls, ate their flesh, drilled holes in their skulls and poured boiling water in (while they were alive).
Jeffrey Dahmer isn’t a very nice man.
My Friend Dahmer, written and directed by Marc Meyers, has taken what I consider to be an odd approach stylistically to the early years of a man who committed such awful, awful deeds. The film takes place in Dahmer’s (played competently by Ross Lynch – Harvey from the Netflix Original series Sabrina) final year or so of high school. Here we gain a bit of insight into the boy that became the monster.
Bizarrely this film feels and looks like Napoleon Dynamite meets Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, whilst never really being as good as either. The slightly awkward and jilted approach to the narrative that My Friend Dahmer takes, makes you feel like an observer to an unavoidable situation whilst also forcing you to empathise with the things in Dahmer’s upbringing that, when added to his already existent mental health issues, led to his murderous rampage.
My main problem with this is that I don’t think that Dahmer is worthy of our empathy. Now this may sound like a cold and judgmental approach to the man but I would suggest that you go and read his Wikipedia page before you react. The way the film unfolds kind of suggests that if his parents hadn’t been so dysfunctional or his friends hadn’t been so manipulative or the school had been a bit more aware of the way the system was failing him then perhaps he wouldn’t have violently murdered and raped 17 boys as young as 12.
This is the perfect opportunity to make a commentary on how American society leaves people with such issues behind. But as it never delves any deeper, it fails in making any strong point other than “oh, poor Dahmer” and I don’t buy this. But I did observe this. Whether this was director Marc Meyers’s intention or not is beyond the point – I felt frustrated at being forced to empathise with Dahmer and didn’t feel it was a respectable route for the film to take.
Putting this aside, My Friend Dahmer actually has some really well crafted and interesting moments. Since the film ends with Dahmer picking up his first victim, it is not so much about a serial killer on a rampage but more about the life he lived before and as such we are privy to viewing some beautiful moments of tension where we get to witness Dahmer wrestling with his demons rather than giving in to them.
These moments are incredibly interesting and well portrayed and we get glimpses at the potential Meyers clearly has as a director. These moments however are too far and few between as the film draws out it’s run time with a dry quirky aesthetic adding more style than needed at the cost of what could have been incredibly captivating substance.
Sadly the acting performances are fairly hit and miss. Fortunately, although Dahmer is portrayed as the stock standard oddball reject that Hollywood relies on to show serial killers, it is still believable and nuanced enough to be intriguing. However the supporting cast on the whole are pretty average and whilst Anne Heche tries very hard to portray the complicated unhinged Mrs Dahmer, even she struggles to fully engage in a way that makes her performance more than a caricature. Perhaps a problem more so with the writing rather than the performance itself but a disappointing result regardless.
Overall, My Friend Dahmer oozes potential but never really accomplishes much more than feeling overly bloated in its stylistic approach at storytelling and (intentionally or not) feels unnecessarily sympathetic to a character that in reality doesn’t really deserve our sympathy. Although it is never boring I am disappointed that My Friend Dahmer failed to be anything more than just watchable.
– Ashton Brown