This is for all the locals in Fairhope, who knew Nicole Teague and are disappointed in the movie, “Our Friend.”
Filmed in Fairhope and telling the heartbreaking story of how a good friend came to help Nicole and her family when she was diagnosed with and subsequently passed away from type IIIc ovarian cancer, the film was realeased last week to mixed reviews. It seems those who personally knew Nicole are shocked.
The screenplay is based on the Esquire Magazine article, “Our Friend” written by Nicole’s husband, Matthew Teague.
Many locals are refusing to watch the film because they’ve heard disturbing reviews of how Nicole was portrayed. Those who have watched the movie, staring Dakota Johnson as Nicole, have been dismayed by the contrast in character of the on-screen Nicole and the real woman we knew.
Nicole and I were members of a year-long Bible study small group where we shared joys, troubles and prayer. The group met a few years before her cancer diagnosis, and her main prayer request I remember most from those days was for her husband Matt’s safety as he traveled with his foreign correspondent’s job with The New York Times.
When Nicole’s cancer was discovered, the perky mom who worked part time in a local jewelry store set out to live her remaining life to the fullest and inspired the entire town with her optimism, energy and total faith that she would soon be in heaven with Jesus. Her calmness was mesmerizing, and we all loved her more than ever before.
After chemotherapy had taken her curly dark hair, Nicole came into the antique shop where I was working. At first, I didn’t even notice her hair was missing because all we could ever focus on was her beaming smile. After she browsed through the store, I helped her select a tiny porcelain tea set for her daughter . . . to be given to her “later.” I could barely hold back my tears, and as Nicole walked out the door into the cold afternoon, frail and alone, I stood at the window and sobbed.
I don’t know Matthew Teague well, and to be honest, I wasn’t really one of Nicole’s closest friends, but to be in a Bible study and prayer group with someone sews a unique closeness of spirit.
Nicole allowed me to interview her for a newspaper story about her journey where I asked if she thought Matt would write about their experience. She responded, “Yes, but probably not for a long time.”
That’s why I was somewhat surprised when it seemed Matt penned a story soon after her passing. The Esquire story was filled with rough medical details that ripped at my heart, but was still kind to the memory of his wife. Love was woven throughout the words of anguish.
It should be noted that Brad Ingelsby wrote the screenplay to the film, not Matt. The screenplay followed most of Matt’s article, but Ingelsby made the decision to stray from the original story every now and then, insert his own dialogue, as well as the confusing time jumps.
Matthew Teague had every right to write what he did. It was his story, and no one else could see through his eyes. His focus was on his friend Dane, and that’s his choice to make. Yet, we all hoped to see a glimmer of the Christ-centered, happy young woman we all remember. What we got instead, was a faint shadow of the real-life woman.
We stared wide-eyed at the screen and watched a cursing, cheating, self-centered, silly woman who seemed to care only for her daughters. Was Nicole ever like that? Maybe it was all fiction thrown in to somehow jazz up the story — or maybe it was true, but to allow only one side to be shown, one that we as her friends had never seen, was troubling.
To characterize Nicole without addressing her faith is like making a film about Julia Child without mentioning she knew how to cook.
It seemed like Nicole’s dirty laundry was being aired after she was no longer here to defend herself and knowing her children will someday see this portrayal of their mother was hard to take. The hint of love in the original article was seemingly replaced with revenge.
Christians make mistakes, but Nicole clearly knew she was forgiven. Her final real-life focus was on her heavenly home where she knew without a doubt she was going. I think as friends and acquaintances of hers, we expected and longed to see that part of her life on the screen.
Another disappointing hole in the story was the omission of the powerful support from the members of First Baptist Church of Fairhope. Organizing an army of people, some not even members of their church, they provided needed help by providing the young family with hundreds of meals. They tackled house cleaning, babysitting, laundry duties and grocery deliveries. The members of this church flooded the hospital parking lot with a candlelight vigil and showed God’s love to a broken-hearted family in their time of need, but were for the most part, missing from the big screen.
It’s no surprise that Jesus and His church don’t sell in Hollywood, which is a shame, but yet I still affirm its Matt’s story to tell. I love and value freedom of speech even if I don’t like the speech. Matt told his version, but it shouldn’t cloud the story that hundreds of others have of a joyful, loving young mother. It’s the story of a believing Christian and the story of . . . our friend.
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