My Best Friend
Try as I might, I couldn't convince anyone to go see My Best Friend (ou, pour le Francophone, Mon Meilleur Ami) with me. I've been in New York for about 10 months. It's not that I don't have any friends here. I've got some drinking buddies, some work buddies, some Binge buddies, and I'm on very good terms with my roommates and their boyfriends. Seriously, I'm a very likable person! I guess no one I know is very much interested in seeing a relatively unadvertised French film about a man who makes a bet with a colleague to prove that he has at least one close friend in life. The same colleague astutely asserts later in the film that just taking the bet is akin to an admission of defeat, but that doesn't safeguard the entire premise from coming off as more than a little hackneyed. I will grant my friends in New York this: I didn't want to see this movie either.
Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful antiques dealer without anyone to call a friend, so, to win a bet, he hires a know-it-all and seemingly socially winning cab driver named Bruno (Dany Boon) to teach him how to make friends. I thought--due to the lead's name (I can't imagine a more "everyman" name for a Frenchman than Francois) and the nearly universal assumption that the French are a dour and unfriendly lot--that this was perhaps meant as a meditation on how French identity is perceived in the world, and possibly even a plea for a national effort to smile more and be more outgoing. If this is the filmmakers' intent, however, it's approached with such subtlety as to be almost absent from a textual reading of the film. Which is really where French filmmakers do tend to excel: subtlety. However, due to the defiant lack of subtlety in nearly every other aspect of the film, my musings on sub-textual investigations of national identity can be dismissed outright.
As expected, Francois and Bruno are set on a path to become best buds, despite the former's rigid indifference to the world around him and the latter's previous misgivings with the enterprise of friendship (his former best friend ran off with his wife a few years before). There are a few predictable montages of Francois trying to use what Bruno has taught him, shots of the two smiling at each other as they develop meaningful bonds in the search of friendship, and a spectacularly tacked-on finale where Francois uses a contact in the antiques world to land Bruno a spot on the gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Which, of course, leads to an overly personal Phone-A-Friend lifeline for the big win.
Perhaps it's just my arrogant American identity, but I couldn't help feeling that the increasingly serendipitous twists and turns of this contrived plot are more reminiscent of an over-the-top American comedy. I could easily imagine Adam Sandler and Kevin James, stars of one of this summer's big cinematic blunders, starring in an American version, the main difference being that our version would have more toilet humor and wall-to-wall gay panic. Granted the French version is shot better (albeit in a somewhat distracting steadicam/verite style), and has better actors and mostly credible dialogue. The French version also adroitly works in a few nice details, most notably a reference to classically Greek ideals of friendship as introduced by a vase that Francois obtains featuring Achilles and Patroclus, best buds from the Iliad.
However, the implausibility of it all--everything from the over-arching premise to the idea that one can get the same taxi driver in Paris twice in a row by chance--keeps the film from sticking to its better instincts. Ultimately, it's a small idea turned into a cute film with endearing characters that could absolutely never, ever happen. Still, I would have preferred to see it with a friend.