Patrice Leconte's My Best Friend has a very frothy premise. A stylish antiques dealer, Catherine (Julie Gayet), confronts her harried business partner François (Daniel Auteuil) with a harsh truth about his life: Were he to die tomorrow, there would be no one to attend his funeral. Their dinner companions nod their heads in agreement, and a bet is made. If François can produce a best friend in 10 days, he wins. If he can't, his unlovability will be proven, and he must sacrifice an outrageously expensive Greek vase.
A concept brimming with exploitable comic potential – as the desperate and warmth-deficient François trolls the streets of Paris for a best pal – is more rueful than one might expect. In drawing up his list of potential "best friends" or asking strangers at bistros how they became close, François reveals the handicap of a life poorly lived.
François stumbles upon a personable taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon), whom he sees as his envoy to friendship. He pays Bruno to give him friendship lessons, and the buddy tutorial yields some unexpected results.
Despite the droll flourishes with which Leconte (Man on the Train) embellishes François' dilemma, many will undoubtedly relate to his film's mood of gut-churning tragedy. Lost in the manic whirl of modern life, François has managed to have a successful professional life, a daughter and a booked social calendar without benefit of true, deep attachments.
There is something charming in a film treating an idea as simple, but as potent, as friendship. One can only hope when it comes time for the American remake that Leconte's nimble touch with existential longing and aching loneliness will not be lost.
No Reservations represents the American tendency to remake popular foreign films while infusing them with our own values and cultural preoccupations. No Reservations is an American remake of German director Sandra Nettelbeck's 2001 romantic comedy, Mostly Martha, updated to a tony West Village restaurant.
No Reservations takes advantage of the current ascendant foodie culture in which even Americans in flyover territory are discussing slow food and scooping up exotically infused salt for the family dinner table. The film centers on Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a haute Manhattan chef and uptight queen bee of 22 Bleecker, a temple of fussy, thimble-sized desserts done up like junior miss pageant contestants and a top-secret saffron sauce.
Another in a long line of American films dedicated to proving that single women are uniformly miserable, emotionally hollow failures, Kate comes home each night to an empty apartment and no messages on her answering machine.
Kate's failures as a woman are illuminated to an even larger degree when her sister dies in a car accident, and she is left to care for her 9-year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Kate is flummoxed by the child, as her lack of maternal instincts undoubtedly have withered due to frequent contact with hot stoves.
The real nudge that Kate's singleton life and career need a radical adjustment – beyond some prompting from her smug therapist (Bob Balaban) – comes with the arrival of a vivacious, soulful sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart), in kitchen Crocs and "wacky" cook pants, who warms up cold-dish Kate and shows her how to relate to her niece.
Putting the knuckle-dragging sexual politics aside, in which female ambition is treated like pathology, No Reservations is from the most hackneyed school of romantic comedy, featuring pointless montages of the family-values threesome of Nick, Kate and Zoe on a three-seated bike or Kate and Zoe having a frolicsome pillow fight that demonstrate Hicks' joyless, leaden touch with romantic comedy.
It's rare to see a film set in modern times, with a female screenwriter, no less, dishing out such retro bunk. Screenwriter Carol Fuchs may be to women what Uncle Tom was to African-Americans. Thanks, Fuchs, but no thanks.
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