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My Best Friend suffers from nearly the opposite problem: Its main character spends the movie trying to figure out the secret to being liked, but it’s unclear why those around him think he’s a git in the first place. François (Daniel Auteuil) is a French antiques dealer who owns a gallery with his partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet). François isn’t exactly the bleeding-heart type—he attends a former client’s funeral only to procure one final piece of furniture from the man’s estate—and at an associate-attended birthday dinner later that night, his colleagues accuse him of not having any friends.
Now, you’d think such a charge would be made lightheartedly, especially considering that the discussion begins not a minute after François smilingly joins them. But these people are rather serious: You don’t bother to notice anyone, they say. No one’s going to come to your funeral. Catherine goes so far as to guess that François doesn’t even have one close friend. In fact, she bets on it. If he can’t present a best bud to her within 10 days, a valuable Greek vase that the dealer impulsively bought that afternoon will be hers. So François spends the evening struggling to come up with a list of pals, shooing away his loving, obviously devoted girlfriend (Elisabeth Bourgine) as he works.
Writer-director Patrice Leconte’s film (co-written by Jérôme Tonnerre) has two major strengths. One is the uniqueness of the script. It’s not often you see stories that are strictly about friendship—sure, there’s guy-love in plenty of films, but its portrayal is inevitably accompanied by explosions, sexy women, or other devices that are distracting enough to show grown men liking each other without making it seem as if they like like each other.
The other plus is its leads: Auteuil, always a charming presence from such fluff as Après Vous… and The Valet, is—in what will prove to be the film’s undoing—also quite likable here, as is Dany Boon (also from The Valet), playing Bruno, an easygoing, trivia-obsessed cab driver sought out by François for advice on how to make friends.
The problem with My Best Friend, however, is that its execution is as strained as its idea is unusual. After that first, mean-spirited dinner—at which point we’ve yet to see any red flags regarding François’ personality—the writers never bother to layer their main character, instead showing him approaching people from his past, all of whom act like he’s murdered their families. Even his college-age daughter tells Bruno that her dad “stinks.” (François’ sin against her? He thought she had a dust allergy, when really it was pecans.) Meanwhile, François’ predicament is played for laughs. He’s thrilled about his apparent instant rapport with salespeople and goofy when he asks two gentlemen in a restaurant how they cultivated their relationship. In other words, he’s funny and personable. Not exactly what the script ordered.
Worse, the plot takes turns contrived enough to get a sitcom canceled. Bruno and François develop a friendship, of course, but just as predictably things get strained—because François, you know, just can’t help screwing up. But the film wipes its hands of all plausibility in its final chapter. Let’s just say it involves Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and those lifelines. Against all odds, there are a few chuckles in this predictable arc, and the sentiment expressed about true friends is touching. But My Best Friend is ultimately a trifle too labored to be sweet.