Like many a French comedy before it, Patrice Leconte’s My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami) is charming, quirkily funny and not a little sentimental. It’s also contrived and predictable but that’s true of most film comedies (this follows the standard Man meets Friend, Man loses Friend, Man gets Friend back format).
Daniel Auteuil looking throughout the film like a gallic Robert De Niro is antique dealer Franois who believes he’s Mr Popular, with lots of friends. In reality, disinterested in those around him as he is, he doesn’t even know that his business partner Catherine (a delectable Julie Gayet) is a lesbian and none of his acquaintances like him. She challenges him to a wager he has until the end of the month to produce his Best Friend.
Meanwhile, across town (we’re talking Paris), a slightly nerdy (but hunky) know-all called Bruno is desperate to go onto the French version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, because he knows all the answers. What holds him back is his nerves and he keeps flunking the audition. Bring the two men together not difficult as Bruno’s a cab driver and Franois constantly uses cabs and they can each work their way towards their goal. There are trials and tribulations along the way but will they both learn what they need to know? You guess.
An expensive greek vase plays a key role in the plot contrivances and there’s a slight sub-plot with Franois’ daughter (typical father/daughter relationship problems) thrown in.
Viewers this side of La Manche have plenty they can relate to, with a climax involving all the familiar elements of Chris Tarrant’s finest hour (the French presenter of Qui veut gagner des millions, Jean-Pierre Foucault, plays himself). The point at which you remember what the famous lifelines are is when you work out exactly what’s going to happen.
But, while this has a highly structured and contrived plot, its strength is in the characterisations. Auteuil has a bewildered little boy quality that makes him paradoxically likeable. Dany Boon, in the role of the knowledgeable cabbie, is equally engaging although he has some of the more difficult material, with forced tears and sentiment, which he handles well.
90 minutes is an ideal length for a film of this type. Had it stayed at its original running time of over two hours, it would have become unbearable, so commiserations to anyone whose role ended up on the cutting room floor but thank you to Patrice Leconte and his editor.
With movies like The Hairdresser’s Husband, Ridicule and Monsieur Hire behind him, Leconte is coming to the end of a long career but this is probably not one of the works he’ll be best remembered for. If you enjoyed the likes of Le Dner des cons (Francis Verber, 1998), which described a very similar relationship, then here we’re in familiar territory and you’ll probably have great fun.