“My Best Friend” could have been a Hallmark card of a movie, or perhaps an idea worthy of a Hummel figurine.
Instead, Patrice Leconte has taken a story about male friendship, in all its posturing and potential vulnerability, and turned it into a light, smart, crowd-pleasing comedy.
Veteran French actor Daniel Auteuil, collaborating with director and co-writer Leconte for the third time following “The Girl on the Bridge” and “The Widow of Saint-Pierre,” is versatile as ever as art dealer Francois. He’s wealthy, stylish and sophisticated, but he realizes during a birthday dinner with his colleagues that he’s reached middle age and has no real friends.
His business partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet), bets him an expensive Grecian vase that he can’t come up with a best friend in 10 days — a vase he’d just bought at auction without consulting her, because he’s innately selfish. Divorced, Francois sort of has a girlfriend (the striking Elisabeth Bourgine), but it seems he could take her or leave her. (One night at his apartment, when she asks, “Should I stay or go?” he answers, “Yes.”)
And so Francois digs through his phone book and knocks on the doors of old acquaintances. The response is the same every time: rejection. But throughout his fruitless search, he keeps running into chatty cab driver Bruno (Dany Boon), a trivia expert who agrees to give Francois pointers on amiability. Be sociable, smiling and sincere, Bruno advises. And in one of many amusing examples in the script Leconte wrote with Jerome Tonnerre, based on a story by Olivier Dazat, Bruno watches as Francois shops for toasters at an appliance store and awkwardly chats up the salespeople.
But Leconte never lets the film devolve into obvious farce. It’s as if he’s followed Bruno’s advice: “My Best Friend” remains sociable, smiling and sincere, even in situations that might have become silly.
Because as it turns out, Bruno has no close friends either. Sure, he gets along with everyone, but he doesn’t really know anyone well, and no one really knows him. It probably doesn’t help that, as a grown man, he still lives across the street from his parents and goes to their house once a week for dinner.
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On one of those nights, Bruno brings Francois home with him. Nervously, he introduces Francois to his parents as his friend, and Francois repeats the words in the same giddy manner. The moment is incredibly sweet without trying hard to be — just a couple of guys showing the courage to let their guards down, something you don’t see too often in the movies.
The climactic conclusion of “My Best Friend” is a massive contrivance — seriously, it would have required major work to orchestrate the events that transpire — but it does give American audiences the opportunity to see what the French version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” looks like.