At a tastefully appointed birthday dinner in a chic restaurant, François (Daniel Auteuil), a dapper antiques dealer, learns from his party guests that he hasn’t a single friend who would trouble to attend his funeral. Challenged by Catherine (Julie Gayet), his sensible gallery partner, to produce a “best friend,” François sets out to procure this person as if friendship was simply another valuable acquisition. A chance encounter with Bruno (Dany Boon), an affable cabbie, provides him with a mentor as François haltingly learns the three S’s of companionship: sympathique, souriant, sincèreto be likeable, smiling and sincere.
Writer-director Patrice Leconte (The Girl on the Bridge, The Man on the Train) shepherds his heroes along a thorny path in this comedy spiced with agonizing missteps, as we see François and Bruno resisting the extraordinary power of friendship for different reasons. François awkwardly attempts to research making friends through books, lectures and observation of encounters between people who clearly share warm relationships. Still, his narcissism isn’t coldly off-putting: He knows how to conduct a business transaction and how to keep a mistress or a colleague on a string, and he hasn’t completely driven away his daughter.
In comparison, his new companion Bruno chooses to be solitary, except for his fretful parents. He understands deeper social interactions but has been wounded and shields himself from intimacy.
Auteuil and Boon are endearing in this character-driven duet as they hesitate, stumble and fall on the path to enlightenment. There are revealing details of François’ blockheadedness (he really must have had an icy childhood). Consequently, Bruno has an uphill struggle in his efforts to make François more sympathetique (not outwardly sociable, as the subtitles imply, but more accurately, warm and likeable as a person).
“Love can be sold, but never friendship,” Catherine reminds François, as he struggles to negotiate not with his wallet or influence, but with his heart.