The Daily Camera on Sunday reported an incident in Rochester, NY that has to rank with the most heinous unintentional tortures in history.
A woman lay in her hospital bed, struck down with paralysis from botulism (a disease you get from eating poorly prepared and/or canned foods). The paralysis had affected her so deeply that she could hear everything around her, but couldn’t speak.
A well-meaning friend erroneously remembered that the woman was a huge Celine Dion fan. So, a la Awakenings, her family and friends put their collective brains together and decided to play the horrific stylized Star Search wailings of the Canadian diva around the clock – for weeks on end. The woman eventually recovered from her paralysis and was reported to have impaled her friend with a large forklift. (Not really, but that’s what I would have done).
I couldn’t get that story out of my mind while watching With a Friend Like Harry, French director Dominik Moll’s Hitchcockian ode to the annoying friend. The movie is a well-executed take on obsessive relationships, emotional and sexual repression, and the sketchy boundaries of courtesy. Like a coma full of Celine Dion or a drippin’ sink you can’t fix, Moll’s Harry succeeds at keeping the audience on the edge of their seat with discomfort.
It’s Hot, It’s Hot, It’s Hot in Here….
With a Friend like Harry concerns the life of a couple, Michel (the young Martin Landau look-alike Laurent Lucas) and Claire (Mathilde Seigner). They’re in the midst of a long road trip in a hot, cramped car with their three painfully unhappy daughters when they run across old high school acquaintance Harry (Sergi Lopez) and his sex kitten fiancé Plum (Sophie Guilleme).
From the start, you can peg Harry’s character – an odd acquaintance with no respect for personal space and a little too much knowledge about his “friend” who doesn’t really remember him.
At the gas station where their paths cross, Harry and Plum invite themselves to Michel and Claire’s creaky, dark, unfinished mountain home for “a drink”. One innocuous beverage leads to an extended visit marked by Harry’s insistence on sharing personal knowledge and delving into Michel’s life.
From the strange conversational pauses to the word-for-word recitations of Michel’s lackluster high school poetry, you can tell pretty quickly that Harry’s gone Single White Female. He makes intrusive offhand comments about Michel’s interactions with his parents and even suggests that Michel might want to have a go at his fiancé. To balance out the negative nature of his wildly inappropriate actions, he buys the family a brand new air-conditioned SUV.
As the strange behavior gathers steam, there is little surprise as to what occurs. People start dying, Michel buys into Harry’s insistence that he’s truly a great writer, and the bursting sexuality of Plum starts causing problems. Where does it all lead? I’ll give you a hint – in the end, there’s a relief-laden scene involving a self-satisfied smile.
With a Friend Like Harry (Harry, un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien) was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes and pretty much cleaned house at the French Cesar Awards (Best Director, Actor, Editing, and Sound) for good reason. Moll pays attention to details, and it works.
From the memorable use of eggs, to the creepily inconsistent pink bathroom in the vacation home, the film finds a new path through some fairly well-tread ground. It’s perfectly paced and wholly without unnecessary gore, though with the rumors of a remake in the works with Wes Craven may change that.
There are a few minor details that make the plot seem occasionally implausible (like, for example – haven’t they ever seen this movie before?), but on the whole, the film holds up.
Sergi Lopez does an outstanding job as Harry – lending a strange dynamic tone to a potentially static character. Laurent Lucas seems to have repression down to a fine art. Guilleme could easily make it as a cinema sexpot in any language.
Bottom line – go see With a Friend Like Harry – it’s fun, interesting, and a little scary. Oh yeah, and make sure to avoid botulism.