No matter how much of a social outcast you are in high school, there’s always this one kid who’s even worse off. I recall a guy who, on the one hand, had facial hair before anybody else in his class and, on the other, wore a slide rule attached to his belt. I wonder what happened to him.
In “My Friend Dahmer,” written and directed by Marc Meyers and adapted from a graphic novel memoir by Derf Backderf, that one kid is, yes, Jeffrey Dahmer, who shortly after completing his studies at an Ohio high school began his career as a sex offender, serial killer and cannibal. In this account, the teenage Dahmer is a withdrawn fellow who dissolves roadkill in acid in a shed behind his house and indulges in attention-getting classroom antics. For these he is adopted, in a sense, by three other nerds. Their mischief-making alternates with sometimes grisly scenes in which Dahmer contends with emerging obsessions. When a disturbed schoolmate cuts open his palm and drinks the blood, the others disperse, but Dahmer stands staring, transfixed.
This film is sensitively wrought. It’s credible in its evocation of mid-’70s suburbia. The acting is excellent throughout, and Ross Lynch in the role of Dahmer elicits genuine sympathy for an increasingly lost but not yet monstrous soul. But in abandoning the subjective perspective of the graphic novel, “My Friend Dahmer” feels a little lacking in purpose.
An earlier version of a picture caption with this review, using information provided by the film studio, misidentified one of the actors. The picture shows the actor Ross Lynch with the actress Sydney Meyer, not the actress Katie Stottlemire.