03 December, 2017

Your Buddy Dahmer

A REVIEW OF MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017)

True crime is having a moment. Online there's Serial and Criminal and My Favorite Murder and White Wine, True Crime, then there's Mindhunter (directed and partially produced by a guy famous for serial killer movie). I talk to ex-girlfriends about murders. I can’t sit down at dinner with my folks without Forensic Files coming on (mind you, this is after Frasier, who is also having a moment). It's only natural that Jeffery Dahmer would finally get his turn in the spotlight. 

My Friend Dahmer is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. As a film, it’s a compelling blend of a portrait of a young madman with a regular horny teen comedy. And while those things sound anathema on paper, as you watch My Friend Dahmer you realize that these two things are actually closer fits than you might realize. That they might actually belong together and that the strangeness doesn’t come from the juxtaposition, but rather from the fact that nobody ever thought to pair these two things together in such a straightforward, forthright manner. More than that, the true horror of My Friend Dahmer isn’t how unusual a serial killer can be, but rather how perfectly mundane this man can be.

My Friend Dahmer performs an incredibly balancing act. It manages to make a sicko like Jeffery Dahmer into a sympathetic character without isolating him from the monster that he will become. You can feel sorry for the monster without feeling sorry for his monstrosities. It does not so much ask you to feel a certain way as it makes you aware that there are things in this world that are unknowable. There is never going to be a truly satisfying answer for a man like Jeffery Dahmer. The triumph of My Friend Dahmer is that it turns the annecdotal-- a year in high school-- into a project that is much more meaningful.

My Friend Dahmer is clever in that it never seeks to be clever. It simply is. Unlike the epic odes to ornate serial killers from David Fincher or the Millennium Trilogy, My Friend Dahmer is as straight forward and as po’ faced as can be. That’s too it’s credit. Marc Meyers and his cast and crew take what could very well be a crass or a cliched piece of entertainment and they made something unique and interesting that I cannot stop thinking about. It doesn’t hurt that every performance from top to bottom is pitch perfect. It's this careful combination of light and dark that allow the movie to be a simple story about a screwed up kid in high school, but also a study of Man's darkest urges.

My Friend Dahmer is a movie that is about cruelty by casual and active, both intentional and unintentional. In places, it's also really funny, and occasionally, it's even a little touching. It’s a movie that doesn’t judge and doesn’t preach and doesn’t bother to tart up what is already an incredible story. It simply stands there and shows life as it was. As it should not have been. Looking at the world, looking at movies now, sometimes you don’t need to explain everything. Sometimes the world enough is its own explanation.


James Kislingbury is a writer, a host, and a convicted criminal. You can listen to his news podcast. You can listen to his cult movie podcast. You can donate to both podcasts. But, seriously, don't try to blow up Margaret Thatcher, guys.