TORONTO -- Director Patrice Leconte
has declared he no longer wants to do "overly serious movies" and that after three more films he will discontinue making films altogether. My Best Friend
is the discouraging result of these twin decisions to downshift. One looks to Leconte for some of the finest, most sophisticated and compassionate filmmaking coming out of France, not for a situation comedy.My Best Friend
is not a bad film and veteran star Daniel Auteuil
makes any film he inhabits an interesting place to visit. Perversely, its tissue-thin substance may even make the comedy more commercial in North America than such films of his as Monsieur Hire
However, there is within the premise of My Best Friend
a much better film than Leconte and his co-writer Jerome Tonnerre (working from Olivier Dazat
's story) came up with. The situation is this: A busy antiques dealer, Francois (Auteuil), is so lost in his work that he is shocked to realize he has absolutely no friends. At a birthday dinner with acquaintances, everyone makes it clear none of them likes him.
Chagrined, Francois insists he has a best friend. When challenged by his associate, Catherine (Julie Gayet
), he is forced to make a wager -- over a super-expensive Greek vase he just purchased at auction -- that he can produce a best friend within 10 days.
So all Francois has to do is learn how to make friends and, crucially, to make a "best friend." His solution is immediately apparent to any viewer but not, at least initially, to Francois. Early in the movie, he keeps running into a gregarious cabbie named Bruno (Dany Boon
), a talkative man with a mania for trivia that makes everyone around him slightly nuts. Eventually, Francois does notice how easily Bruno makes friends with strangers so he enlists Bruno to teach him the social graces.
Meanwhile, the search for a best friend goes badly as everyone from a fellow dealer to a long-ago school chum turns out to loathe him. Of course, quicker than you can say "predictable," you notice that Bruno would make a wonderful best buddy.
What bothers you is how Leconte has shied away from his own theme. The film supplies plenty of bumper-sticker sentiments about friendship but never gets to the bottom of what that word really means. Friendship has nothing to do with social graces or even being a good guy; it is a connection that doesn't yield easily to sit-com solutions.
In no way is Francois a worst-case scenario. Catherine is clearly a friend, for instance. Yes, he is distant and self-absorbed -- as if those were unique qualities -- but you don't see him as reprehensible. It might have been intriguing to watch a truly horrible person forced to give himself over to friendliness. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
is a good model.
Francois has a born-yesterday naivete that doesn't square with his obvious sophistication. Could such a fellow really navigate in the Parisian art and social world so cluelessly? And if he were a thief and a bastard -- which you never really see -- wouldn't he be as thick as thieves with someone?
Meanwhile, Bruno's character is designed more as a solution to another character's problem than as a flesh-and-blood personality. What is interesting though is that for all his friendliness, he is a much lonelier guy than Francois ever is.
Things come to a head toward the end, charmingly and cleverly, on the French version of the TV game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" This is the show, remember, where if a know-it-all contestant such as Bruno gets stuck, he can call "a friend."
Technical credits are fine although, by Leconte standards, run-of-the-mill when it comes to visual style.
MY BEST FRIEND
Christal Films presents a Fidelite Films, TF1 Films and Lucky Red co-production
Director: Patrice Leconte
Writers: Jerome Tonnerre, Patrice Leconte
Story by: Olivier Dazat
Producers: Olivier Delbosc
, Marc Missonnier
Director of photography: Jean-Marie Dreujou
Production designer: Ivan Maussion
Costumes: Annie Perier Bertaux
Music: Xavier Demerliac
Editor: Joelle Hache.
Francois: Daniel Auteuil
Bruno: Dany Boon
Catherine: Julie Gayet
Louise: Julie Durand
Bruno's father: Jacques Mathou
Bruno's mother: Marie Pillet
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 95 minutes