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My Best Friend: Sweet bus simplistic morality tale
My Best Friend: Sweet bus simplistic morality tale
by Derich Mantonela - SGN A&E Writer

Opens Friday at the Harvard Exit If you don't expect more of director/writer Patrice LeConte's My Best Friend than a sit-com level date movie, you won't be disappointed.

One of France's conservative, establishment, old-guard-style filmmakers, LeConte churns out pop-arthouse potboilers on a dependably regular basis. Though they rarely rise above the level of TV fare, his films are technically well-crafted, with engaging actors, fine production values and fairly competent, if formulaic, scripts.

If for nothing else, LeConte (who, perhaps surprisingly, is only 59 years old, not 89) will go down in history for having made the ultimate "male chauvinist pig" classic, "The Hairdresser's Husband," in which a vivacious, gorgeous young woman throws herself down the city sewer out of sheer love for a boring, unattractive old nerd (every straight redneck French male's fantasy come true).

"My Best Friend" is the sort of mini morality play specialized in by the French. Daniel Auteuil, an even blander everyman than our own Tom Hanks, plays a wealthy (inexplicably so, by the way) antiques dealer who seems to have everything in life but love. When, at a dinner, his associates and acquaintances (one could hardly call them "friends" given their tactless bluntness and coldness, eclipsing even French standards for such rudeness) inform him that they find him incapable of any genuine human relationship, he takes a bet that he can produce for their scrutiny an actual "best friend" - or he'll forfeit the "ancient Greek friendship vase" he has just paid two hundred thousand Euros for at auction.

Now wait a minute&! This guy is supposed to be a fabulously successful antiques dealer, and yet he impulsively bids up this (not very old-looking, frankly) piece of crockery nearly to the quarter-million-dollar mark? Without even checking it out (provenance, authenticity, etc.) beforehand? On a whim?

And, then, he blithely asks that it be delivered to his home. That sets up a subsequent plot gimmick I nearly choked on, involving his female business partner secretly stepping in to have an exact copy of it made, in order to hatch her own convoluted scheme. Huh?

But never mind. As long as LeConte can hammer home his points, screw logic.

So, our poor rich schmuck casts around, with increasing desperation and balefulness, for a likely candidate to play the role of a buddy. He sees pals cavorting together everywhere, giggling, partying, slapping each other around like jocks, enjoying quality company and fun, but there's apparently none of that out there for him.

Finally, he finds his patsy, a chattery, hapless, trivia-obsessed possible "idiot savant," a taxi driver (Danny Boon, squeezing more into a two-dimensional role than it deserves, while vaguely suggesting mental retardation) who is ripe for the taking. Our anti-hero (does that label make him more interesting than he really is?) insinuates himself into the taximan's life and home and affections, preparing to present him as evidence to win the bet with his cynical associates.

Of course, his crass ruse backfires, leaving him feeling like an even more heartless, inhuman cad than before. Will the cruelty of his betrayal of his pretend "best friend" shame him into discovering, and jump-starting, his own heart, at last? What do YOU think?

Hard to fathom but alas, hardly surprising, that LeConte never seizes in all of this didactic moralizing the opportunity to at least ponder the notion that an all-male friendship might encompass an element of homosexuality (on the part of one, if not both, of the men, something they would need to deal with if their friendship were to grow or endure), and that, just perhaps, homophobia might be one of the roots of the main character's inability to bond with another male.

LeConte avoids the chance to explore that subtle, elemental supposition, something which might have raised My Best Friend above the level of sweet, simple (as in simplistic) stereotype and self-satisfied superficiality -- hallmarks of many of his films so far.

However, lest he be accused of being an ostrich re "the Gay issue," he lets one of the peripheral female characters be a Lesbian. After all, real straight guys dig Dykes.

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