“I no longer want to do overly serious movies,” states Patrice Leconte (Intimate Strangers, The Man on the Train) in the press notes for My Best Friend. With a dispirited shrug, one can only reply, “Mission accomplished.” To be sure, such a career decision should help the director avoid preachy slogs like The Widow of St. Pierre in the future. His newest film’s preference for awkward dramedy rather than any significant, insightful investigation into the nature of friendship, however, isn’t a successful trade-off. In a mildly promising opening, all-business art dealer François (Daniel Auteuil) attends a casual dinner where he’s told by unhappy partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) that he has no friends, a claim that leads to a bet in which François promises to produce his best friend within 10 days or lose an expensive antique Greek vase (in which a man saddened over the loss of a chum reportedly once filled with tears). Late to the realization that no one likes him, Auteuil’s lonely man strives in vain to find a pal before enlisting a sociable, trivia-spouting cabbie named Bruno (Dany Boon) to pretend to be his BFF, a cheeky setup that holds potential for a meaningful look into what attracts us and binds us to our closest acquaintances.
Unfortunately, Leconte is mainly drawn to sitcom scenarios, which might have been a reasonable tack to take if his material weren’t so cautious and staid, and if he were more committed to—or capable of—exploiting François’s ruse for jovial farce. François’s fundamentally callous unpleasantness and Bruno’s foremost function as a vehicle for the protagonist’s emotional awakening sap the action of any vigor, despite the fact that the director generates modest intimacy via his familiar habit of maintaining close cinematographic proximity to his characters. An outdated, drawn-out climax on the set of the French Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? (where, hint hint, one of the lifelines involves phoning a friend) epitomizes Leconte’s strained levity, and is indicative of a film that resorts to tired Seinfeld-ian situations in which Francois and Bruno’s platonic relationship is depicted with hetero rom-com clichés.