My Friend Dahmer is the fourth film from relatively unknown director Marc Meyers. A coming of age serial killer biographical drama about Jeffrey Dahmer’s teenage years, it stars Ross Lynch (a Disney channel graduate) as the titular “Milwaukee Cannibal” and Alex Wolff as the cartoonist “Derf”. They became friends in their senior year of high school, and Derf documented the short time leading up to Dahmer’s first kill at the age of eighteen in the graphic novel on which this film was based.
Many beats of the story of My Friend Dahmer are similar to those of a typical coming of age film. Jeffrey has to learn how to deal with the divorce of his parents, how to make and keep friends, find a date for prom, and deal with his teenage mood swings. The difference in this film to many other coming of age stories is that we know where he will end up. We know that Jeffrey Dahmer will not come out of his teenage years as a well-adjusted adult. This dramatic irony serves the film relatively well as it adds a sick, black, comedic aspect to a lot of what happens to Dahmer. The knowledge of the conclusion of his story adds an odd, unsettling comedy as he mopes around like awkward nerd Martin Starr in Freaks and Geeks.
Another trope of the coming of age film is the lead character understanding their sexuality. My Friend Dahmer is no exception but explores it through Jeff’s repression of his homosexuality which the film portrays as contributing to his crimes in later life. His lack of true friendship is also explored as a potential motivation to kill, as his closest friends keep him around as a sideshow act and he struggles to fit in.
The cinematography is where I felt the film was let down (for the most part). The film has an odd reliance on lens flares that did nothing to add to any scenes in which it was used. A shallow depth of field was also overused throughout, making a lot of scenes look worse than they should. The performances are all strong but none stood out as excellent. My only gripe is the aforementioned Martin-Starr-in-Freaks-and-Geeks-esque lead performance from Lynch, though his performance will help him to avoid becoming typecast as a Disney Channel actor.
Overall, I’d have to say that My Friend Dahmer is certainly worth a watch. It takes the well-trodden coming of age genre and does something fairly original with it in the exploration of a serial killer’s teenage years, in a much more watchable way than TV show Bates Motel. Meyers delves into Dahmer’s psyche, suggesting aspects of his life that could lead to him becoming one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century in an entertaining and intriguing manner.
My Friend Dahmer is screening as part of LIFF 31. For tickets visit LeedsFilmCity.com. Image Source: Bustle.com