My Friend Dahmer comes at the story of Jeffery Dahmer from an interesting angle; it follows Dahmer growing up at school, following from aged 17 to his first murder at 18 - the film stops just after he picks up Steven Hicks. The story as written by John Backderf, played by Alex Wolff in the film, follows him and his various friends as they both invite Dahmer into their group to use him in various pranks, but also try and be friendly with him - or as friendly as you can be to an asocial, seemingly asexual outcast who fakes seizures to get attention.
The film does have certain benefits that I would say raise it above the bar of simply "good" to great. Firstly, the cinematography is first class; there is so much boldness and colourfulness that does associate it much more with a coming-of-age film - the sharpness of colours does remind me a lot of The Spectacular Now, and that type of look helps the movie have a groundedness to it and make you almost forget you're watching a film about one of the most infamous serial killers in history. The script is full of very interesting scenarios about both the characters and the town that we're growing up in. You get to see the individual disintegration of the lives of both Dahmer's parents, which are brilliantly realised by both Dallas Roberts and Anne Heche, you get to see the conflicting dynamic between Derf and his friends over their treatment of Jeffery and how their whole lives are currently going off course.
The cast is strong - small, and full of little parts that still stick with you. Alex Wolff is kind of nerdishly charming as John Backderf, who views what him and his friends are doing as harmless fun and does seem to like Dahmer, really. There's a recurrent role of a doctor played by Vincent Kartheiser who Dahmer starts to fantasise over, played with a normalcy that makes the part stand out.
However, BY A MILE, the best part of this move is Ross Lynch as the young Jeffery Dahmer. The thing that makes this performance as Dahmer so interesting is that he's not an overly awkward, nerdy, introverted guy at the start of the film - he's just someone who has problems but isn't overall bad. However, as the film goes on, you see this guy growing more and more dangerously in upon himself, and the few good qualities leave him overtime - his willingness to make people laugh, his academic interests, and even his acceptance of Derf's drawings for him are completely gone over the course of the film. I won't say the film made me feel sad for him, but more despair watching someone become more and more lost than anything else.
From his graduation towards the end of the film, when he literally left entirely alone by his family, just left with a bottle of Vodka, the film's tone shifts from amusing to soulless, and it's a tone that Ross Lynch fully embraces, through an unbelievably tense scene with Derf, to the brilliant final scene where he picks up hitchhiker Steven Hicks, that felt me very emotionally shook. I really liked this film, a lot. It shows a great showcase of acting from Ross Lynch, who looks more than capable of shedding his Disney Channel image, and also Marc Meyers for directing such good material.