My Best Friend Review
Much in the same way that the Gallic love for Jerry Lewis films was once regarded as a running joke over here, French critics are now similarly horrified with the image of their treasured national cinema being represented across the world almost exclusively by the films of Luc Besson and Patrice Leconte. In a country not best noted for its comedy film output (even the French themselves would be the first to admit that their comedies are mostly rubbish), Patrice Leconte has nevertheless managed to find a popular audience for himself. His crude, long-running comedy film series Les Bronzés was revived with a second sequel last year Les Bronzés 3: Amis Pour la Vie, becoming one of the most successful films ever in France. While such comedies have not travelled abroad, Leconte’s unchallenging but engaging mismatched romances and buddy movies usually reach a modest international audience receptive to their quirky charm. Although it displays the familiar characters and the glossy professionalism typical of the director, Leconte’s latest film My Best Friend this time veers dangerously close to the broad, unfunny French comedy.
François Coste (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful businessman, a dealer in antiques and fine art, who regards himself as popular and well-liked. His friends however don’t believe he really has time for people and question whether he even has a true friend at all. Surprised by their attitude, François rises to the challenge and bets that before the end of the week he will produce his best friend. With a notebook full of contacts, François doesn’t think it will be too difficult, but he soon finds that he doesn’t really have a single genuine friend in the world. With only a week to acquire a new friend, François enlists the help of his regular taxi driver Bruno (Dany Boon) – an amiable fellow with an encyclopaedic knowledge of dates, facts and figures – and hopes that through him he can acquire the necessary communication skills to interact socially with people. It’s an uphill struggle, but a bond grows between the two men.
While certainly nothing out of the ordinary, the situation in My Best Friend is at least a promising one for a Francis Veber-style broad comedy if it can manage to successfully avoid the traps of heart-warming sentimentality on the subject of friendship. Sadly, all the clichés are trotted out here – a friend in need, friendship can’t be bought, someone who will always be there for you – delivered sincerely as touching little homilies, albeit with a little bit of farce and humour. Unfortunately, it isn’t that funny and it gives the impression that the comedy is there just to show that Leconte doesn’t take all this too seriously. And that’s partly where the problem lies. As silly as many of the situations can be between Leconte’s misfit losers in The Girl On The Bridge, The Hairdresser’s Husband or L’Homme du Train, at least there the director take the time to invest his characters and their relationships with some credibility.
Consequently, My Best Friend is rather too smooth and lacks an edge – but mostly it’s simply just unconvincing. You couldn’t dislike Auteuil and Boon here, but there is nothing between their characters here that suggests any kind of chemistry or connection that would form the basis for a genuine friendship. Leconte isn’t interested in making it convincing either, preferring to play the situation as a sentimental farce. What is particularly annoying about this decision is that there are other less predictable relationships in the film more worthy of exploration - either François’s cool behaviour with his adoring and beautiful ladyfriend Julia (Élisabeth Bourgine) or his business/personal relationship with his lesbian colleague Catherine (Julie Gayet) – but neither are examined in any detail or brought to any satisfactory resolution.
Sticking with the rather less challenging buddy situation, Leconte relies on a Greek vase bearing the images of Achilles and Patroclus from the Iliad in place of any real depth of characterisation. Purchased fairly but with no consideration for others by François, it becomes the symbol of his view of friendship – a rather mercenary one that can even be the object of a bet. Like the rest of the film it is all too neat and contrived, giving the film a predictable, schematic structure that feels utterly false. In a film that shouldn’t be taken too seriously however, such indulgences could be forgiven to some extent or overlooked in favour of Leconte’s other qualities as a filmmaker and the fine performances of Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon – although certainly neither are stretched at all by material as thin as this. What is utterly unpardonable however is the film’s reliance on the format of a certain well-known television game-show to generate tension as its climax. More than anything, it demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of taste, ideas, characterisation and dramatic drive in the film, and surely represents an all-time low in the director’s career.
My Best Friend is released in the UK by the Optimum. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
Presented anamorphically in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film has been marvellously transferred to DVD. The image is clear, sharp and detailed, the colours are clear and accurate, the tone seems appropriately warm and cool in relevant parts of the film. There is not a mark to be seen and you would need to look very carefully to see any kind of digital artefact. There are certainly no evident problems when viewed during normal playback.
There is a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes for the film and both are clean, clear and accurate. There is very little use made of the surrounds other than for discreet ambience, so either option will function perfectly well.
English subtitles are in a bold solid white font and clearly readable. They are optional and can be removed. There are quite a few jokes that rely on word-play and references to French popular culture and institutions. Suitable alternatives are provided by the translator for the main part, but some, such as changing a lead character’s name from Bruno Bouley to Bruno Ballanchain, really aren’t worth the effort and fall flat. The choice of English swearwords is again questionable – one would imagine that an exclamation of “Fuck!” from a contestant on a live television show would elicit slightly more of a reaction from the host than “Putain!” gets here.
Like the film, the extra features are smooth, perfunctory and lacking any real personality. The Making Of (25:14) is what it is – a record of the making of the film, showing the setting up of a number of scenes and including the briefest of interview snippets with Leconte, Auteuil and Boon. Although it has an annoying voiceover, the UK Trailer (1:47) sets the film up very nicely, making it look sharp, snappy and amusing. The French Trailer (1:35) does much the same, but contains a major spoiler.
My Best Friend is not a film you’ll feel passionately about either one way or the other. Leave your cynicism at the door and it’s a pleasant, inoffensive little comedy – unchallenging, mildly entertaining, well-played and expertly made in a manner that we have come to expect from Patrice Leconte. Even Leconte fans however may be surprised by just how routine, impersonal and predictable it is, lacking the conviction and the slight edge that can make all the difference in films by this director. What it most lacks however is a level of humour that can excuse the worst excesses of a deplorably weak script and sickening over-sentimentality. Optimum’s DVD is as slick as the film is on the surface, presenting a very nice transfer and making of feature.