French semi-puff specialist Patrice Leconte explores buddyland in his new farce, “My Best Friend.” The soufflé rises, and even contains a bit of body despite the tired recipe guiding this generally singular filmmaker.
In fare ranging from “The Hairdresser’s Husband” to “The Man on the Train,” Leconte has excelled at crafting appealingly slight, deceptively light tales of unlikely connection. He continues, less distinctively but more viewer-agreeably than ever, on that track with this comedy about both an odd-couple friendship and friendship itself.
Francois (Daniel Auteuil), a Parisian antiques dealer who’s so detached that he attends a client’s funeral just to acquire furniture, is told by close acquaintances that none of them — nor anybody, period — actually likes him. Responding defensively, Francois agrees to a bet posed by business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet): Francois must produce his “best friend” within 10 days or else give Catherine an expensive vase.
As his search for a pal proves pathetic, Francois seeks affability coaching from cabdriver Bruno (Dany Boon), whose lower-brow sensibilities and love of game-show trivia irk the haughty Francois but whose people skills Francois covets. Bruno, too, needs a friend. The two bond — almost.
Lacking the eccentric, kinky, obsessive and other off-center dynamics that have distinguished past Leconte fare, the film sometimes suggests a Hollywood buddy flick with subtitles. The story, scripted by Leconte and Jerome Tonnerre and relying largely on Francois’ unpersonability forlaughs, unfolds predictably. Supporting characters are underdeveloped.
But as Leconte doesn’t make bad movies, nor can he quite make a shallow one. While he takes us to obvious places, he navigates the straits of his misfit characters brightly. As Francois and Bruno bumpily cross the line that separates mere acquaintances from true friends — confiding in each other, displaying trust, feeling concern — they upstage the cliches and demonstrate, rather poignantly, what constitutes friendship and what this cherished brand of company represents in the overall human-need universe.
Auteuil and Boon provide the crucial chemistry. Auteuil, terrific at playing outwardly respectable people compromised by inner dysfunction or suppression of humanity (his credits include “Ma Saison Préférée” and “Caché”), conveys those traits in Francois with a mix of comedy and gravity that winningly reflects Leconte’s similar tone. Boon never lets Bruno’s puppy-eyed quality translate as simplemindedness.
With such merits in play throughout an ideal 90-minute running time, this seeming art-house trifle is too astute and endearing to disregard.
My Best Friend ***
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet
Written by Patrice Leconte, Jerome Tonnerre, based on a story by Olivier Dazat
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes