This film by esteemed French director Patrice Leconte may not have the depth or richness that have characterized his earlier pictures, but “My Best Friend” is just as elegant, and on its own terms is very appealing. Daniel Auteuil plays Francois Conte, an obsessively businesslike Parisian antique dealer who runs a gallery with his partner Catherine (Julie Gayet). At his birthday party Catherine accuses him of caring more about things than people, and in particular of having many acquaintances but no real friends. The argument leads to a bet: he’ll produce the best friend he claims to have (but doesn’t, of course) within ten days or give her the magnificent Greek vase—complete with images of legendary buddies Achilles and Patroclus—that he’s just bought at auction at a price that threatens the very existence of their establishment.
With little more than a week to work with, Francois desperately searches for a chum and, failing to find one, decides that he’s in need of instruction on how to make friends quickly. The person he latches onto as a teacher is an unlikely one: Bruno (Dany Boon), a loquacious cab driver with a love of factoids that he spouts endlessly, hoping they’ll eventually land him a spot as a contestant on the Gallic edition of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” Given his inclination to offer a disquisition on almost any subject that might arise in conversation, it’s not surprising that he’s divorced, or that his acquaintances tend to find him somewhat of a bore, and he is in fact a younger relative of the hilariously tedious human encyclopedia that Ralph Richardson played in Byron Forbes’s underrated “The Wrong Box” (1966). But Francois is impressed by Bruno’s ability to get along with strangers, and enlists his help. As it happens, of course, Bruno is as much in need of a true friend as Francois is.
There’s no great surprise in where this “Odd Couple” pairing is headed, but thanks to Leconte’s canny touch and Auteuil’s delightfully blustery performance, which Boon complements reasonably well, it’s quite enjoyable to tag along on the journey. The secondary story thread involving Francois’ daughter Louise (Julie Durand) doesn’t add a great deal to the plot, but that which introduces Bruno’s supportive middle-class parents (Jacques Mahou and Marie Pillet—the latter Julie Delpy’s mother, whom you can also see in “2 Days in Paris”)—adds a humane layer to what might have become a coolly dispassionate comedy. And while a last-act bit of scheming involving that Greek vase doesn’t quite come off, the machination, along with a sideline about a collector (Henri Garcin) who wants to purchase it, does serve to allow for a twist that ends the picture on a satisfying note without turning it into something as unambiguous as the typical Hollywood crowd-pleaser.
Visually “My Best Friend” shows the sheen characteristic of Leconte’s films, boasting exquisite cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou and a production design by Ivan Maussion that distinguishes nicely between the different social worlds inhabited by the various characters. One wishes Xavier Demerliac’s oddly percussive score complemented the look better.
But that’s a minor blemish in a film that, while hardly the director’s most ambitious work, is a smooth and cheerful divertissement.