Reviewed by Tim Grierson
The two central characters of My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami) may grapple with the meaning of friendship, but director Patrice Lecontes comedy-drama is actually more interested in loneliness and how it can seep into every aspect of a persons life, causing deep fissures of self-doubt and unhappiness. Though somewhat similar to his Man on the Train, Lecontes latest tale of mismatched compatriots is a gentler rumination about class, getting by on charm and some light philosophical questioning, which counterbalances the films occasional story lapses.
Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is a divorced Parisian antiques dealer whose company is faltering. At his birthday party surrounded by work associates, his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) accuses him of having no friends and devoting all his energy to priceless objects instead of people. Francois argues that he has many friends, betting her that he will introduce her to his best friend by the end of the month. The wager puts Francois in a bind since he in fact is friendless and just as emotionally shutoff as she had said.
Rather than use this revelation to help him reassess his priorities, he instead searches desperately to recruit someone who will pose as his best friend so he can win the bet. Towards that end, he meets Bruno (Dany Boon), a lowly taxi driver with a gift for trivia who dreams of being on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Francois notices how personable Bruno is with both his passengers and total strangers, and so he hires the man to help him learn how to get friends. Although stuffy Francois is initially turned off by Brunos chatty, cordial manner, the two become close, forming a friendship that Francois hopes to exploit for the bet.
Unlike many of Lecontes earlier works such as The Girl on the Bridge, My Best Friend is a light concoction. Unfortunately, this new film sometimes feels unnecessarily minor, with character motivations unconvincing and plot points rather arbitrary. But there remains enough of Lecontes sober intelligence present to keep this slight tale grounded in reality.
Though the films premise sounds like the tagline for broad farce, Leconte treats his plot more seriously, using the unlikely friendship between the two men as an excuse to examine male bonding rituals and social status. But the high-concept gimmick of the bet forces My Best Friend to go down some ill-advised paths. Rather than developing the tenuous connection between the two men, the film focuses its attention on Francois and his quickly-approaching deadline to produce a best friend.
An additional plot contrivance occurs when Catherine insists that, in order for him to win the bet, Francoiss best friend must exhibit some sort of kindness toward Francois that demonstrates how close they are. Catherines stipulation provokes Francois to concoct an outlandish scheme that will fool Bruno into performing a selfless act for him, stretching credibility to the breaking point.
When the screenplay doesnt impose inconsistent behavior on his character in order to further the story, Auteuil does great work playing a man whose chilly demeanor has left him at an emotional dead end. Similar to the haunted talk-show host he played in Michael Hanekes Cache, Auteuil shows skill at portraying an ostensibly decent person who is dead on the inside, lacking a soulfulness that permanently alienates him from his loved ones. Francois is not a traditional all-work-no-play protagonist who simply needs to learn how to love to be happy. Instead, Auteuil makes the man more complicated so that he understands how his aloof, superior tone can irk others while not having the tools or the courage to change the behavior.
Boons Bruno seems to be the happier of the two men with his affable personality and easy smile. But Boon draws out this taxi drivers secret loneliness, demonstrating how outward friendliness may, in actuality, just be another way of combating an inner unhappiness. Boon plays him not as a saint or a pitiful figure, but rather a simple nice guy badly bruised by personal disappointments that we only slowly discover through the course of the film.
My Best Friend goes out on a limb with an admittedly unbelievable ending, where a game-show appearance acts as a final test of the two mens friendship. But like the rest of the film, the finales suspension of disbelief is easier to accept because we come to identify with these two characters so deeply. Patrice Leconte argues that no matter our station in life, we secretly worry about both the quantity and quality of our companions. In a world dominated by material success, My Best Friend offers the sneaky possibility that well only discover our true self-worth when were scared and alone at 3am, needing someone, anyone, to talk to.
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Patrice Leconte
Production companies: Fidelite Films, TF1 Films, Lucky Red, Wild Bunch, Canal +
US distribution: IFC Films
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Screenplay: Jerome Tonnerre, Patrice Leconte (story by Olivier Dazat)
Cinematography: Jean-Marie Dreujou
Editor: Joelle Hache
Production design: Ivan Maussion
Music: Xavier Demerliac
Francois (Daniel Auteuil)
Bruno (Dany Boon)
Catherine (Julie Gayet)