September 6, 2007

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My Best Friend (PG-13)
A self-involved antiques dealer attempts to make one true friend in My Best Friend, a French comedy.

Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is an antiques dealer who attends the funeral of a client only to be somewhat shocked by the dearth of other mourners. Francois himself is really only there to make sure he can still sell a piece of furniture the man had previously arranged for him to sell. That night at dinner he tells the story to the assembled people. His partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) says that he will have even fewer mourners at his funeral. None, another dinner guest pipes up, because Francois has no real friends.

(Though we are famed for our crassness, I doubt most Americans would be so boorish as to pile on to a guy who, if he isn’t a friend, is a good business acquaintance who can get you a good deal on art deco furniture. At least, we wouldn’t say it out loud. We’d politely think it in our heads and then deflect attention by talking about Lindsay Lohan or something. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?)

Though my response were I the Francois in such a conversation would be to “go to the bathroom” and stick my pompous dinner companions with the check (and in that crowd, no one’s going to their funerals either), Francois decides to turn it into a bet. He bets Catherine that he can introduce her to a true friend of his in the next 10 days. She bets him that he can’t. The prize: a Greek vase from circa Expensive B.C. that itself is an ode to friendship.

Francois sets off calling on everybody he knows, finding that none of them are really friends and that most of them think of him as a grasping, self-involved jerk who only shows up when he wants to sell them something or borrow money. Realizing that none of his current acquaintances would consider themselves friends, he decides to make a friend. But how?

Bruno (Danny Boon) is a personable guy, earning smiles as he stops to pet a dog or help some delivery men. Francois first meets Bruno when he’s driving Francois in his cab. Bruno is full of Paris trivia (trivia of all kinds, it turns out) which Francois (and just about everyone else) finds boring. But under that Cliff Claven is a decent guy and Francois decides to hire him to teach him how to make friends.

Naturally most of Francois’ attempts are wildly unsuccessful — his first attempts at smiling seem more like grimaces. But eventually, Francois is able to develop something of a rapport with Bruno, who also seems in need of a friend.

Since this is a French comedy, Francois eventually has to come up with a wacky scheme to prove to Catherine how much of a friend Bruno is and Bruno has a fascination with quiz shows that eventually leads us to the set of the French Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The hardest part of this movie for me to swallow, however, is the scoldy, bitchy nature of the people who put Francois up to his friend-finding challenge. They are smug and irritating — hardly the kind of people who can get on their high horse about being personable. And Francois’ dilemma isn’t such an unusual one — swap Paris for Peoria and isn’t this more or less the argument behind Bowling Alone and other such societal studies that say we as a people need to get out more, be more social?

My Best Friend is not, thank goodness, searing social commentary. It’s a sweet, light movie that actually does make you think about your friends and how you could spend more time with them and less time with the Catherines of the world. B

Rated PG-13 for some strong language. Directed by Patrice Leconte and written by Olivier Dazat, Leconte and Jerome Tonnerre, My Best Friend (released in France as Mon meilleur ami) is an hour and 34 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by IFC Films. The movie is currently playing at Wilton Town Hall Theatre and is schedule to play at The Colonial Theatre in Keene.