It’s strange, isn’t it, that it’s now been twenty-five years and we’ve yet to see the story of notorious killer Jeffrey Dahmer adapted for mainstream cinema? Alas, My Friend Dahmer is not that story, serving instead as a would-be origin story for the infamous slayer and adapted from – of all things – an autobiographical graphic novel chronicling Dahmer’s high school years. It’s as creepy and sinister as you’d likely expect, funnier than you’d think, and with relative unknown Ross Lynch making a hell of an impression as teen Dahmer. It just doesn’t quite work though, and, on balance, you can’t help but feel the fault for that lies in the hands of writer-director Marc Meyers.
Meyers positions his picture as a sort of coming-of-age dramedy for Dahmer, with Lynch’s fop-haired bespectacled outcast finding kindred spirits in a trio of new high school friends led by aspiring comic artist Derf (Alex Wolff). Adopting the moniker “The Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club”, the now-quartet set out to raise hell in the final year of their high school careers. But, for Dahmer, the sense of belonging proves encouraging in all of the worst ways, and his detachment from the world around him soon begins to widen even further.
Despite all the potential in the world for the film to offer up something genuinely new for the serial killer sub-genre, My Friend Dahmer is fixed more squarely on the dramatic aspects of Dahmer’s teen years, aspects Lynch proves more than up to injecting with enough pathos and vulnerability to truly sell, but one which feels restrictive in the face of literally any knowledge on just who or what Dahmer himself will become. Meyers’ film largely avoids acknowledging as much (save, naturally, for the obligatory closing text) and allows Lynch’s performance to wisely serve as the dark-hearted core of an otherwise perfectly engaging and blackly comedic indie drama.
Wolff offers up solid support as Derf (in reality, author of the comic book upon which the film is based), but Meyers’ screenplay never quite finds enough meat on the bones of the story to offer up anything truly groundbreaking. It’s as if Meyers got lost int he high school drama of his subject and somehow forgot just where he was historically headed, and the manner in which My Friend Dahmer avoids this as any cost proves increasingly trying no matter how compelling Lynch’s lad proves. Behind the camera, Meyers delivers the goods, and his cast (including a superb Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as the Dahmer parents) refuse to back down on giving the film their absolute all.
Sadly, their collective efforts are hampered by a story that struggles to handle its own meagre ambitions, and ultimately feels like an over-egged origin story that refuses to tip its hat toward the infinitely more intriguing place in which that origin will historically go. On its own merits, My Friend Dahmer’s a perfectly engaging dramedy, but within the context of the larger story offered up, it’s really only interested in delivering over-the-shirt high-school petting.
My Friend Dahmer is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, June 1st; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.