No friends, no benefits

My Best Friend

on July 13, 2007 by John P. McCarthy
Billed as a “bittersweet” comedy, the latest from French auteur Patrice Leconte ( Monsieur Hire , Man on the Train ) puts a loathsome Paris antiques dealer Francois (Daniel Auteuil) in the crosshairs of resentful acquaintances and associates, who accuse him of being incapable of genuine friendship. As misanthropes go, Francois isn't so bad. Yes, he hits up a widow for a valuable piece of furniture at her husband's funeral; he's oblivious to the sexual preferences of his long-time business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet); and his daughter can't stand to be around him. But he's mostly guilty of self-absorption and insensitivity.

His detractors, on the other hand, prove capable of malicious behavior that's designed to teach Francois a lesson (suggesting a well of fellowship at odds with the movie's premise). This comeuppance hinges on a Greek vase depicting the friendship between Achilles and Patroclus, which Francois buys on impulse at an auction. Later that same night, during a dinner to celebrate his birthday, Catherine publicly goads him into a wager: If Francois doesn't produce the best friend he claims to have within ten days, he forfeits the vase.

Desperate to find a bosom buddy or learn how to make one, he enlists the help of an amiable cabdriver named Bruno (Dany Boon). Naive Bruno collects useless trivia the way Francois collects beautiful things, and if not for panic attacks could realize his dream of competing on the French version of the television game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire . Bruno tutors Francois and of course they become pals. Harshly farcical complications ensue.

The barbed material isn't ha-ha funny, and Leconte's concern with contrasting high and low culture, intellectuals and the working-class, probably won't register with American audiences. Because the setup is rushed, the climax sounds tinny, and that's apart from the movie's grating, accordion-heavy score, which could turn anyone into a misanthrope. By celebrating the idea of friendship more than the reality, My Best Friend recalls a quip of Snoopy's from the Peanuts cartoon strip: “I love mankind. It's people I can't stand.” Distributor:  IFC
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet, Julie Durand, Jacques Mathou, Marie Pillet, Elizabeth Bourgine, Henri Garcin and Jacques Spiesser
Director: Patrice Leconte
Screenwriters: Jerome Tonnerre and Patrice Leconte
Producers: Olivier Delbosc and Marc Missonnier
Genre: Comedy; French-language, subtitled
Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: July 13, 2007
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