© 2007 Stefan Gruenwedel

How to win friends and influence people

My Best Friend (Mon meilleur ami) by Patrice Leconte is a pleasantly conveyed morality tale about the nature and meaning of friendships. What are they, how do know you’ve got any, and how do you hold on to the ones you have?

Sometimes having a fabulous life is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially if you’re a disagreeable person. What’s the point of having friends if they put up with you only because they feel they have to?

Daniel Auteuil stars as François, an arrogant, cutthroat, ruthless (and middle-aged) antique dealer in Paris who thinks his life is pretty fabulous. One day when he’s at a dinner party with what he considers his dearest acquaintances, he’s mortified to learn the truth: that none of the people there actually likes him.

In fact, they don’t even think he knows what it means to have a friend, or even to be friendly. One obvious strike against him is the fact that he hasn’t a clue that his business partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet), whom he considers a close friend, is lesbian. He’s that unaware of those around him.

Catherine bets him that he has, in fact, no friends. Not even a best friend. Stung by this accusation, François defends himself by claiming that of course he has a best friend. If he can prove it, she’ll let him keep a massive, expensive, and coveted Greek urn he bought earlier that day with the company’s money. If he can’t, it’s hers.

François seeks to prove them wrong, even if it means reinventing himself and lying to others along the way to make it appear as if he’s found his best friend. He looks up old friends from long ago, including grade school, who are understandably horrified to run into him again, let alone say anything nice to him. Attending a seminar by a best-selling author of a “how to make friends” book turns out to be a bust as well.

The only sign of hope comes from a chatty cabbie named Bruno (Dany Boon), who exudes an easiness and familiarity with complete strangers that François can only dream about emulating. He hires him to train him how to make friends fast, so he can eventually con someone into acting as his best friend. The two make a great pair.

Naturally, Bruno himself gets taken for a ride in all of this, and it’s François who must make amends if he’s to have any shred of humanity left in him when the deadline for the bet with Catherine approaches.

My Best Friend is an amusing exploration of a fear that is often uncomfortably real — that we don’t really have any friends when we think we do. Even though it resorts at times to unflattering stereotypes for comic relief, as when François encounters a friendless man at the “how to make friends” seminar (likely the weakest part of the movie), the film redeems itself by not becoming entirely farcical. It nicely blends comedy with drama so it’s serious when it needs to be.

A visit to the set of the French version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, with real-life host Jean-Pierre Foucault playing himself, lends the film an unexpected touch of suspense, not to mention a dose of pop culture realism for French audiences.

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