To paraphrase Werner Herzog, even serial killers started small, and they were probably all awkward teenagers at some point. Based on the graphic-novel memoir by Derf Backderf, the picture recounts the last couple hellish years Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) spent in a hellish Ohio high school, and in a home being broken by his troubled mother, Joyce (Anne Heche, doing her best Megan Mullally). Dahmer finds some social connections by becoming the “mascot” of a group of boys — including memoirist Backderf (Alex Wolff) — who somewhat mindlessly encourage his sociopathic tendencies, especially his willingness to pretend to have seizures in public. (He also messes with the school librarian, which is beyond inexcusable.)
My Friend Dahmer is pure character study, and though it’s Rated R for “disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity,” the picture is almost entirely nonviolent. It’s admirable that the film avoids full-on exploitation by ending just before Dahmer’s first human kill, but the two-act structure also results in the film never quite making it to the fireworks factory. And even if the viewer is unaware of his eventual crimes, the fact that Dahmer asks to be referred to as “Jeffrey” rather than the far more dignified “Jeff” suggests his mental instability. It’s the little things.
My Friend Dahmer
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.