Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Best Friend (Mon meilleur ami) A Film by Patrice Leconte (2006)

My Best Friend is the kind of film that is bound to elicit unabashed waves of light compliments, most specifically describing it as "cute". In truth however, the flimsy charm that the film dishes out disguises what is by all means a pedestrian, predictable, aggravatingly unrealistic film. Certainly it is enjoyable to an extent, but French director Patrice Leconte is dressing up something that is really closer to a schematic (in the worst way) scriptwriting exercise as a sophisticated parable.

The premise feels off-kilter to begin with: an uptight, unsociable antique dealer named Francois (Daniel Auteuil) strikes up a silly bet with a co-worker stating that if he can prove to her that he has a best friend, he will be able to keep the company vase he received in an auction. Unfortunately for Francois, he does not have a best friend, or any real friends for that matter, so his pursuit of friendship becomes an increasingly absurd expedition whose solution is, of course, "right under his nose". He milks the sociable gifts off of a kind, chatty taxi driver only to realize in the end that doing so was insincere in the face of a simple bet he had placed. And quite conveniently, Francois learns lessons that tip him off towards the meaning of true friendship.

Leconte may have forgotten at some point that he's dealing with adults here. In his hands, Francois is a dimwitted fool - it is a surprise that he has a job in the first place - and those around him are no less juvenile. It has somehow escaped him that the people he knew and considered "friends" in high school are leading entirely separate lives and would inevitably be unhinged by the less than ideal meetings he has with them, all in an attempt to be coincidental. Auteuil does his best to deal with his character's clueless nature, but even his mature acting, which is the high point of the film, cannot overturn the fact that he is set astray from the realities of upper class adults. Of course, adults can at times be as immature as children, but My Best Friend's treatment is undeniably hyperbolic.

Where Leconte falters most heavily is in his unsubtle storytelling. Everything that occurs in the film is in direct relation to Francois, either augmenting his feelings of isolation (the consecutive sights of friendly people on the streets, the fact that everywhere he goes someone or a billboard is telegraphing the importance of friendship) or balancing his smug side and his newly sociable side. In Leconte's Paris, it seems no ordinary life is in motion; everyone walks the streets in order to make a connection with Francois for better or worse, teaching him how he should act in life or denying his kindly offers at the bar. After Francois' shallow pursuit of companionship and his bet fall apart right before his eyes and those of his co-workers and the taxi driver friend whose graciousness he is blind to, his life becomes worse off than it was to begin with.

So, detrimentally, Leconte concludes the film with an arbitrary plot turn. The taxi driver, whose vat of trivial knowledge is well known, makes his way onto the French version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and eventually is desperate and must phone a friend. Francois is, of course, not his true friend, but knows the answer. This sequitur, which felt like Slumdog Millionaire all over again with its implausibly coincidental questions, was too ham-fisted a way of revealing the true emotions of the two men. My Best Friend is as flat and contrived as the expression of the host on the show.

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