by HELEN GEIB
The story of My Best Friend, a French comedy-drama written and directed by Patrice Leconte (The Man on the Train, Intimate Strangers) taps into the contemporary preoccupation with social alienation. Francois has no friends. He is middle-aged, wealthy, cultured, successful and extroverted, but still he has no friends, not even one, and perhaps never has had a friend. The source of his friendlessness does not spring from the contemporary culprits of modern technology and geographical dislocation, but from the age-old culprit of the self. Francois is self-absorbed and emotionally obtuse, so much so that he does not even realize he is friendless until it is brought aggressively to his attention. He discovers that he wants to have a friend, but first he must become a person who deserves friendship.
The plot is based in Francois’ search for an understanding of friendship in concept and for a “best friend” in fact. He enlists the aid of a gregarious cabbie named Bruno (Dany Boon) who tutors him in friendliness, and gradually becomes the friend Francois seeks. However, the road to self-awareness and true friendship is a bumpy one paved with comic incidents and moments of pathos.
If it sounds like My Best Friend is contrived, it is. The contrivance is particularly strong at the start of the film, as Francois’ friendship quest is prompted by a gimmicky plot device involving a classical Greek vase and a bet by Francois’ fed-up business partner, and in a too-pat ending. That does not mean it isn’t an enjoyable movie. The contrivance concerned me more in hindsight than as I was watching the film. The comedy is good and Francois’ emotional journey is heartfelt and sincere. My Best Friend is a light, pleasant and amusing film that tugs gently at the heartstrings.
My Best Friend’s greatest asset is Daniel Auteuil’s performance as Francois. It is imperative that Francois begin the film as simultaneously likable and impossible to like. He must be likable for the audience to invest emotionally in the story, which is centered on his search in the particular for friendship and in general for meaningful emotional connections with his daughter, partner and other people important to his life. Yet he must be impossible to like for the premise to work. It is equally imperative that he change through the film in a measured and realistic way. It is an exceedingly difficult characterization and that it succeeds is almost entirely due to Auteuil’s performance. He is simply splendid.
2 1/2 stars