Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

My Friend Dahmer is written and directed by Marc Meyers based on the graphic novel of the same name by Derf Backderf.  If you read this site, follow the Twitter, or watch the YouTube channel you may know that I have a severe love of Derf Backderf’s work ESPECIALLY My Friend Dahmer.  I think the graphic novel is one of the best of all time.  Whenever someone asks for recommendations for their next book it is always the book I will point out first.  The graphic novel explores the life of young Jeffrey Dahmer long before he was convicted of murdering, torturing, and (sometimes) eating 17 men.  Dahmer was once just a weird kid from Ohio who made a few friends in high school before going off to commit his heinous crimes.  One of those friends was Derf Backderf.

The film is a fairly good representation of the graphic novel and there is a lot of the graphic novel in there.  The movie hits on several key points though there is a bunch of new plot that wasn’t in the graphic novel.  There may be several reasons for this.  Was it there to give fans of the graphic novel something new?  Was there key events that Derf left out that were just better for a film?  Was there a bunch of dramatization added in that didn’t actually happen but just makes sense from a scripting standpoint? I believe the last one is absolutely correct – especially in the liberties taken near the end of the film.

My Friend Dahmer follows young Jeff (Ross Lynch) as he goes through his junior year pretty much unnoticed except for the assholes that like to pick on him.  He’s a weird kid who spends a bunch of time in a shed dissolving roadkill.  Dahmer finds no solace at home.  His mother Joyce (Anne Heche) isn’t quite there mentally.  Usually his father Lionel (Dallas Roberts) comes home late after work and then bickers incessantly with Joyce.  Jeff has a total quality of life issue at both school and home.  So what does he do?  He keeps quiet and collects roadkill.

Something happens to Dahmer in his senior year and he decides to start acting out.  He starts spazzing and mimics someone with cerebral palsy or falls to the ground to fake a seizure.  Everyone thinks that the quiet weird kid is now REALLY WEIRD but fellow seniors Derf (Alex Wolff), Mike (Harrison Holzer), and Neil (Tommy Nelson) find these spazouts totally hilarious.  The band geek trio brings Dahmer into their group and declare themselves Dahmer’s biggest fans.  They start a Jeffrey Dahmer fan club.  Dahmer is almost in utter disbelief.  His acting out actually lands him friends.

Derf, Mike, and Neil come up with new and innovative ways to annoy people with Dahmer’s spazzing.  You feel that the group is really taking advantage of Dahmer but when you see Dahmer alone you realize that maybe these kids are a good influence.  But even with friends who may not really be friends is better than being by himself where Dahmer stalks a runner wanting to attack him or pretending to cuddle with corpses.

But as the senior year goes on even Dahmer’s new friends don’t appeal to him.  Dahmer starts drinking heavily, starts killing animals, and pulls away from everyone.  Derf and Mike don’t seem to care and still plan to use Dahmer for their schemes.  Neil has a change of heart and doesn’t want to put this miserable kid through any more misery.

If you are looking for a film that has Dahmer killing people and eating their flesh, this is not the movie for you.  The movie, just like the book, looks at Dahmer’s life before he became a serial killer.  Dahmer’s not raping dead corpses, he’s just a messed up kid.  The film does a good job of showing the warning signs but his high school friends didn’t really care about that sort of things and his parents were too messed up to truly give Jeff the love he needed.  His dad Lionel makes some attempts but really knows that he isn’t a great dad.

The film is a slow burn and I thought it to be very slow at times.  I’m not sure if this is done on purpose or not.  Most of the film centers directly on Dahmer and so you really feel the pain and anguish this kid goes through.  He’s a messed up kid and they don’t dial it down.  Events play out for the audience that soon become very uncomfortable.  I wouldn’t mind this slow down too much but I thought Alex Wolff’s performance dragged the film a bit.  I know Wolff has been acting since a very young age, but as an actor in this film I didn’t find him impressive as the second lead.  I didn’t like him in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 but as that entire movie was a trainwreck I just wrote it off.  But as Derf, Wolff gets a ton of screentime and I just didn’t buy him.  It pains me to say it because I wanted this film to floor me on every level.  I just didn’t like his performance.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Ross Lynch’s portrayal of Dahmer was fantastic.  He absolutely floored me. Lynch is a teenage heartthrob well known to every tween throughout America but there is no signs of that heartthrob here.  Lynch IS Dahmer.  He carries this movie so well.  You feel what Dahmer is feeling almost to the point where you want to cover your eyes in the theater.  You just want to shout at the screen for someone to help this kid.  It’s not possible.  It’s just a movie based on events that already happened.  But Lynch makes this so real that you almost think you can go through the movie screen, give Dahmer a hug, and say, “Dude, it can really be okay.  You don’t have to do it.”

I think it’s a shame because I don’t think Lynch will be recognized for his performance.  I don’t mean by moviegoers who see the film because I’m sure there’s not one person out there who will walk out of the theater and say that Lynch wasn’t outstanding.  The dude rocked it.  I just think come awards time no one will notice this performance, which is a damn shame.  I certainly don’t think it is out of the question but FilmRise really hasn’t gotten this out there for people to see.  The flick is currently only on 75 screens and won’t break a million unless the screen count rises or more people get their butts into those seats.  Who knows.  Maybe I’m dead wrong and Lynch will be showered with accolades.  All I’m saying is if he’s not recognized it would be a damn shame.  FilmRise – you should spend a couple bucks come award time.  Get them screeners out.  Take a few ads.  That might do the trick.

Dallas Roberts and Anne Heche were both outstanding as Dahmer’s parents.  My wife and I talked about them on the way home from the film as we both acknowledged that their performance were superb even though the roles themselves were limited.  The wife felt that the movie could have used more of them to which I thought it would have taken away from the alienation director Marc Meyers may have been trying to achieve.  Wifey added that more scenes between Heche and Lynch would have been nice and perhaps even achieved that alienation a bit better.  I do agree that more Roberts and Heche would have been a good thing.

There was one big scene that bothered me at the end and I think it only bothered me because it was added for dramatic effect.  If I hadn’t read the graphic novel I would have never known this.  But I have read the graphic novel many, many times and it is the reason I travelled to a theater playing My Friend Dahmer to watch it (which was not at all close).  I understand what Meyers was going for with these scenes.  Then it occurred to me that maybe something like this really happened and Derf felt uncomfortable putting that in the graphic novel.  This rolled through my mind as the scene played out but I ultimately came to the conclusion that it was fictitious.  Derf would have no point in hiding what happened.  Derf is pretty honest in his portrayal of himself and his friends in the graphic novel and putting a scene like this would have been essential if it actually happened.  Even though I didn’t like this tail end section I still LOVED Lynch’s sinister performance during these scenes.  He creeped me the fuck out.

I saw this movie not only with my wife but two good friends.  My wife was not a fan of the film though she actually acknowledged interest in reading Derf’s graphic novel.  My two buds, who aren’t comic book fans and had no clue what the film was actually about, liked it a lot.  They pointed out that they liked the fact that Dahmer doesn’t murder anyone in the film.  They thought there were going to see a movie about a serial killer and end up getting a film about a lonely, fucked up kid before he decides to start murdering people.  They dug it.  I dug that they dug it.

I thought Marc Meyers did a great job in both adapting the screenplay and directing the film.  The film almost has an eerie feel as most of the time the camera is right on Lynch as he brings Dahmer to life.  There isn’t a lot of music in this film and because of that it is really just Lynch in front of the camera while the audience hears everything that is going on.  I first thought, “Are they going to play music in this film?  A score?  Are we going to get some Ramones?”  But as the film went on I thought it was an excellent decision to let the scenes play out with no 70’s punk rock playing every five minutes.  It’s eerie and really sets the mood for the film.

As a massive, monster fan of the graphic novel I’m glad I had a good time with the film adaptation of My Friend Dahmer.   I’ll reiterate that while the film played out very slowly and dragged at times it actually helps you feel the uncomfortableness of Dahmer.  There’s no escaping him.  Marc Meyers may have captured it but it is Ross Lynch all the way here.  Lynch made this film.  Lynch may not be recognized for his performance now but I feel that My Friend Dahmer is going to be one of those films that people will find for years to come and say, “How the hell did I miss this?”  How the hell indeed.

RATING: B+

For good measure I’m putting Derf’s website here because you should check out and buy everything the man has done: http://www.derfcity.com

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