‘My Best Friend’ gets to the root of relationships
October 18, 2007
François Coste (Daniel Auteuil), the focus of the French comedy “My Best Friend,” is a sealed-off, self-centered man. A dealer in fine antiques, he’s far more interested in things than in other humans. The opening scene finds Coste at a memorial service, and when he approaches the deceased’s loved ones, he offers a token of sympathy before inquiring about a desk the gentleman had left behind. Later, at a dinner with friends, François mentions the low turnout for the service, and is shocked when his companions inform him that none of them is likely to show at François’ graveside. François has removed himself so completely from human interaction that it comes as news that none of these people are his friends, but acquaintances who would barely notice his absence.
Taxi driver Bruno (Dany Boon) is François’ near opposite. He would be described as a “people person” – gregarious, helpful and happiest in the company of others. But Bruno, too, is, in his own way, friendless. His most regular social interaction is Sunday dinner with his parents, in a neat but dull Paris suburb. He is divorced, his ex-wife swept away by his ex-best buddy. Bruno uses his loquaciousness – in particular his handle on trivia, with which he assaults his cab passengers – to mask the shallowness of his relationships. His discomfort is evident in his frequent auditions for TV quiz shows: Put in front of an audience, he begins to feel judged, disconnected, inferior.What director and co-writer Patrice Leconte has in mind for these two is as obvious as their social faults. If there were any doubts, they are erased by a wager: François’ business partner, Catherine – a lesbian, a detail which comes as a surprise to François – bets that he cannot produce a “best friend” in five days’ time.As a plot point, the wager is unnecessary, even damaging, as it telegraphs exactly what is to follow. Ten minutes into the film, I found myself wondering what the film could do to surprise me, or even hold my attention.
But while “My Best Friend” is short on story twists, it becomes rich in detail and emotional revelations. A comedy on the surface, the film penetrates to raise issues about the nature of and need for friendship, and even more about our identities and the importance of being genuine. As the business tie between François and Bruno becomes an acquaintance, then a friendship, the veneer of comedy fades, replaced by an examination of a developing relationship. We watch as a pair of frail middle-age men act in the manner of children, learning the rules of the playground. You don’t lie to your friends; you do take into account what other people want.Auteuil gives François a pinched, myopic look, as if he has willfully ignored the fact that there are other beings inhabiting his world. His change into a warmer creature is gradual, stumbling and convincing, not the instantaneous transformation that might mark a lesser film. Boon’s Bruno is a complex and sympathetic character; when he is first introduced, his brand of chattiness could easily pass for the social grace of a person at ease with himself.”My Best Friend” is not exactly a feel-good movie. It may instigate too much soul-searching in the viewer for that. But it will make you feel good, seeing two lonely people discover how removed they are from the world, and set out to correct that deficiency.
“My Best Friend” shows Sunday through Tuesday, Oct. 21-23, at the Wheeler Opera House, with nightly screenings at 8 p.m., and a 4:30 p.m. matinee Sunday.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org