Thor: Ragnarok hit theaters this weekend, but there’s another, smaller comic book adaptation playing at Village East Cinema that I simply had to see first: My Friend Dahmer. John “Derf” Backderf’s graphic memoir is one of the most compelling portraits of a serial killer ever written, focusing not on the lurid, oft sensationalized particulars of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes, but rather on the mundane details of his formative years. Derf portrays his old high school acquaintance as average, ordinary, and all too human—which makes the fact that he ended up becoming a notorious murderer even more terrifying.
Unfortunately, director Marc Meyers’ restructuring of the narrative robs the story of much of its impact. The source material represents Derf’s struggle to reconcile his memories of the awkward boy he knew in his youth with the monster who confessed to butchering seventeen men, and his ever-present narration adds necessary context to the otherwise randomly-assembled events of the plot. By removing the commentary, shifting the point-of-view to Dahmer himself, and relegating the author’s avatar to a supporting (and, in emphasizing his less endearing qualities, borderline antagonistic) role, Meyers essentially transforms Backderf’s work into The Secret Origin of the Milwaukee Cannibal, which isn’t nearly as interesting, considering it’s been done before (in 2002's surprisingly good Dahmer, starring Jeremy Renner).
That said, Ross Lynch excels in the title role: his hunched posture and long, lumbering gait perfectly communicate Jeff’s discomfort in his own body, especially regarding his repressed homosexuality and perverse attraction to violence. I just wish that the script had given him more opportunities to explore this conflict. Instead, the cinematic reinterpretation of My Friend Dahmer feels like a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing; sure, you can appreciate the soft clouds and verdant trees, but the image is still undeniably incomplete.
[Originally written November 4, 2017.]