Directed By: Dominik Moll
Written By: Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand
Produced By: Michel Saint-Jean
Cast: Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin, Liliane Rovère, Dominique Rozan
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes
Review Date: September 10, 2010
There are multiple signs that something is off with Harold Ballestero (Sergi Lopez) — Harry, he casually insists immediately after the proper introduction — pretty quickly into With a Friend Like Harry. He remembers an old high school classmate Michel (Laurent Lucas) in a brief, chance encounter in a service station restroom a decade and then some years after graduation. Harry doesn’t just do a double take or risk a curious glance every so often at Michel; he turns to face and stares directly at him.
That moment alone is the giveaway that Harry has some problems. Maybe he’s unaccustomed to social interaction. Perhaps he just becomes too overexcited by certain things in life. Possibly he’s a psychopath with no qualms about hurting others. Michel doesn’t know; he hardly remembers Harry from school. Maybe they didn’t go to school together in the first place.
This is the classic setup of a thriller, one where new characters appear and we can sense that at a certain point some terrible fate will befall them. Co-writer/director Dominik Moll seems to know that we know, so the script (written with Gilles Marchand) holds off on that promise as long as it can, showing us that we might be wrong about Harry. After all, he is, as the original French title assures us, “a friend who wishes you well.”
After all, Harry isn’t some loner. He tells Michel he has a girlfriend, and sure enough, when Harry runs into Michel and his wife, Claire (Mathilde Seigner), in the parking lot after the random meeting in the bathroom, there is his girlfriend, Plum (Sophie Guillemin). Plum takes instantly to Michel and Claire’s three daughters.
Michel and Claire are on their way to their summer home across the border in Switzerland, and even though they keep saying how out-of-the-way the drive is for him, Harry insists it’s no problem to follow them for a drink. Of course, that means Harry and Plum will be spending the night, too, and after some drinks, Harry shows just how well he remembers Michel.
Harry can quote verbatim a poem Michel wrote in high school. Michel and Claire are shocked — he to learn that something he wrote so long ago has made such an impact, she to discover that her husband once had a creative streak. Harry cannot understand why Michel doesn’t write anymore.
Harry appears a decent, if overbearing, guy. He notes the state of their summer home and offers to help Michel financially. Money is no object to Harry, who inherited a fortune from his father and grew accustomed to spending with impunity while the old man was alive. When the family car breaks down, he buys them a new SUV, despite Claire’s insistence against the offer.
Harry has no awareness of boundaries or propriety, and Moll keeps us on our toes by establishing a similar, impassive tone to Harry’s own. When dad (Dominique Rozan), mom (Liliane Rovère), and brother (Michel Fau) show up, the true extent of Harry’s helpful nature reaches absurd and deadly levels, and his motivation is the most naïve and ridiculous one that there could be.
With a Friend Like Harry is not unique, but its dismissive attitude manages to keep dreadful actions and potential light and almost cheery. It contains everyday absurdity and the ultimate irony of Michel living the good life, in a large way, because of his pal Harry.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.