Like the ever-dwindling daylight hours and the vague look of resignation on the faces of schoolchildren everywhere, Patrice Leconte's My Best Friend signals a change of season. Hollywood's summer is ending, and with it ends the parade of spectacularly expensive blockbusters, franchise threequels that feed off of viewer nostalgia, and juvenile comedies that fumble for the audience's affections like a teenage boy fumbling to unhook a girl's bra. Autumn and winter films, with their Oscar-seeking seriousness and more "realistic" character- and issue-driven dramas, are just weeks away, and the middlebrow virtues of Leconte's film attest to an interest in the reawakening of the "serious" audience's hearts and minds. That My Best Friend has considerable lapses in craftsmanship and emotional resonance is practically beside the point.
François (Daniel Auteuil) is an antiques dealer whose lesbian gallery partner (Julie Gayet) accuses him of a friendless existence and dares him to produce his best friend. After several failed attempts, François seeks help from Bruno (Dany Boon), a gregarious, open-faced basset hound of a taxi driver who tries to teach François the benefits of being "sociable, smiling, sincere." Without being as wink-wink, nudge-nudge about its exploration of male friendship as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Leconte's film explores the subject of male friendship by honoring most romantic-comedy tropes. There's a chance encounter, a tutorial on how to get that special someone, a slow realization that what François is looking for is right under his nose, a sudden conflict, a resolution on the too-grand stage (this one takes place during the French version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?), and a quietly hopeful denouement.
Like Nicole Holofcener's film Friends With Money, Leconte insists that, for adults anyway, friendship and economic status are uncomfortably linked. Both men are collectors, but while François collects ancient pottery, paintings, and statues for his large apartment, Bruno collects newspaper articles, which he keeps in a scrapbook at his parents' house. This gap is prominent in one key exchange, when François pays a large sum to buy a cheap table from Bruno's dad. After a leg of the table comes off while François and Bruno are bringing it upstairs, Bruno is shocked by François' ruse. "You pay to make people happy?" he asks. "You don't?" François replies.
However, the film is as constrained and timid as it is intelligent and tasteful. For an experienced director, Leconte doesn't really know how to arrange a shot. The images are often centered, but the rest of the space on either side of the central action in the frame pokes out like the extra lettuce on a poorly made sandwich. The shallow focus expresses a casual indifference to the rest of the world going on behind the main actors, which would be fine if Auteuil and Boon were not merely the self-effacing, unpretty professionals they are.
There are plenty of good and bad movies to come. My Best Friend belongs to neither category, but if other films this fall show a similar respect for their audience, then moviegoing should be a lot less depressing.
My Best Friend
Opening Friday, August 31st