My Best Friend [subtitled]

My Best Friend

This French film is the kind of movie that—aside from the subtitle factor—is light and easy to follow, and makes a welcome point (about the value of friendship). My Best Friend is a nice, inoffensive, understandable, watchable film, and almost out of gratitude I want to be able to say it’s good. But unfortunately, for the most part it’s not. Kind of like Jersey Girl, say, where I’m rooting for it, but in the end it’s pretty lame.

The protagonist is an art dealer who seems to have a decent amount of human connection in his life. He’s been married and has a grown daughter, he has at least a somewhat steady girlfriend, he owns a business with a woman that he gets along fine with, and he socializes regularly with groups of people, mostly associated with his work.

At one of these group dinners, his partner off-handedly remarks that he has no friends, no one to come to his funeral. He protests that of course that’s not true, but everyone else present sides with her. Out of pride he makes a sizable bet that within thirty days he will introduce them to his best friend.

Which means he has thirty days to come up with one from scratch, since he was completely bluffing.

Meanwhile we meet a young cab driver, annoying his companions at a bar by reciting obscure facts about any subject that comes up. (He’s obsessed by trivia, and regularly tries out for TV game shows, but fails due to performance anxiety.) He’s a mostly happy, friendly guy, but it’s not clear he’s really close to anyone, except his parents.

Basically he’s Cliff Clavin, just with two parents he’s attached to instead of one.

The art dealer contacts numerous people from his present and past, to see if any are amenable to identifying themselves as his best friend so he can win his bet. All unambiguously rebuff him.

Next he tries to meet people and befriend them, but again gets nowhere. That is, until he meets up with the cab driver, who he admires for his easygoing, gregarious nature, his ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. Not explaining to him why, he asks him to in effect mentor him in the art of making friends.

The cab driver agrees. The art dealer proves to be none too able a student however, keen but seemingly lacking some intangible that would enable him to make friends.

It’s predictable from early on that these two will become friends and that’s how he’ll learn the value of friendship. It’s a simple set up, a simple story.

Still, there are surely ways it could develop that would be quite interesting, funny, or both. But it never comes close to living up to its potential. Not to mention it loses points for scattered implausibilities.

It could be a Scrooge-like story of a bitter, negative, mean-spirited guy being redeemed by friendship, but there’s way too little contrast between what he is and what he becomes. That is, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the guy that explains why he, supposedly, doesn’t have any friends. He’s a perfectly pleasant fellow, he doesn’t treat people particularly badly, he has at least some dating success, he’s not an introvert, and through his work and lifestyle he comes into contact with a lot of people and has plenty of acquaintances.

If My Best Friend wants to show that he’s so caught up in chasing money or some other goal that it’s made him unloving and unlovable to where he drives people away, it doesn’t do a very good job of it. He maybe doesn’t come across as the ideal of a potential friend, but I don’t see that he’d rank any worse than around the middle of the pack of the human population.

The movie also starts as if the cab driver is something of a socially unsuccessful nerd, more the type to be lacking in friends than the art dealer in fact, yet then it seems to forget that he’s Cliff Clavin. Once the cab driver becomes the friendship mentor, it’s played without any irony like he’s genuinely good at this socializing stuff and the art dealer needs to learn his skills.

One would think maybe it would be more like each is a social misfit in his own way but they don’t recognize that about each other and each thinks the other has a lot to teach him. Or some kind of angle like that, I don’t know.

It’s also implausible that when the art dealer is approaching people so eager to make friends—whether he’s rebuffed as by most people, or accepted as by the cab driver—he doesn’t get the obvious reactions. One, that he’s gay. Two, that he’s trying to get money from them or victimize them in some way. Three, that it’s some sort of practical joke or set up (like for a hidden camera show or some college psychology research project or something). Some act like he’s a little weird, but that’s about it. They pretty much take him at face value and accept or (usually) reject him accordingly.

I’ll give the movie credit for at least making me care about the two main characters. I thought they were both sympathetic characters and I rooted for them.

But on the whole it just falls flat.

Of the movies I’ve written about so far, now that I think about it, maybe Bheja Fry is the closest to this one. That too is a comedy about a mismatched pair who become unlikely friends, one a big shot of sorts who is aloof from people, and the other an overeager nobody who is enthusiastic about life and people.

The major difference is in quality. Bheja Fry is a wonderful little movie. Its funny parts are much funnier than those of My Best Friend, its more serious emotional parts succeed at least somewhat more than those of My Best Friend, and its storyline, though not ideally realistic since it’s a comedy, is not burdened by anywhere near the holes in logic and motivation that My Best Friend’s is.

This film is likable enough in its way that I certainly didn’t hate watching it, and in fact if there were another movie by the same director with the same characters, I might even give it a shot, just for its entertainment value as a superficial, feel-good sort of movie experience, but I can’t recommend it.

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