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Let’s Be Friends

Two reluctant middle-aged bachelors confront the challenging Parisian dating scene in bittersweet comedy "Let's Be Friends." Classically structured tale of a smooth-talking extrovert who takes a sweet nerd under his wing -- resulting in personal growth all around -- is funny and touching in a way that would ordinarily suggest local success and possible dates offshore.

Cast:
With: Gerard Depardieu, Jean-Paul Rouve, Tilly Mandelbort, Lionel Abelanski, Annie Girardot, Isabelle Renauld, Yves Jacques, Elisabeth Vitali, Xavier de Guillebon, Valerie Benguigui, Cassandra Harrouche.

Two reluctant middle-aged bachelors confront the challenging Parisian dating scene in bittersweet comedy “Let’s Be Friends.” Classically structured tale of a smooth-talking extrovert who takes a sweet nerd under his wing — resulting in personal growth all around — is funny and touching in a way that would ordinarily suggest local success and possible dates offshore. In Gaul, however, this Feb. 23 release failed to ignite the box office, despite the presence of Gerard Depardieu in the lead.

Both “Friends” and Depardieu’s previous vehicle, Andre Techine’s “Changing Times,” are better-than-average films of their kind. The fact both have failed to draw crowds raises the unthinkable possibility that general French auds may have developed a slight Depardieu allergy. Still, first-time co-scripters/helmers Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache distinguish themselves as talents to watch.

Thirty-five-year-old Claude Mendelbaum (Jean-Claude Rouve) is a computer technician at a financial firm. He’s so nondescript fellow shoppers take him for a store clerk when he’s buying his own groceries. Then, at the wedding of his good friend Daniel (Lionel Abelanski), Claude meets Serge (Depardieu), an outgoing fellow who says he’s on the bride’s side of the family.

Before he knows it — and through no initiative of his own — mild-mannered Claude is thoroughly implicated in swinging single Serge’s life. A divorced father of two, Serge drags him to speed-dating sessions and initiates him into his weekend ploy of crashing nuptial feasts, inspired by the statistic that 56% of married men are said to have met their spouse at a wedding.

Script’s approach to the difficulties inherent in finding a temporary companion of the opposite sex — let alone a soulmate — is varied and entertaining, with melancholy undertones. As selfish bon vivant Serge takes advantage of Claude’s congenital niceness, Claude begins to bloom.

Rouve and Depardieu make an amusing pair, and vet Annie Girardot does a memorable turn as Claude’s senile mother. Gags all fall within the realm of possibility, which gives the pic an edge over comedies that rely on gratuitous nastiness for yucks.

Let's Be Friends

France

Production: A Mars Distribution release of a Quad Prods., Yumu, StudioCanal, France 3 Cinema production. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Chiche, Nicolas Duval. Executive producer, Prune Farro. Directed, written by Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Pascal Ridao; editor, Dorian Rigal-Ansous; production designer, Herve Gallet; costume designers, Catherine Bouchard, Jacqueline Bouchard; sound (Dolby), Paul Laine; assistant director, Alan Corno; casting, Sylvie Peyrucq. Reviewed at Elysees-Biarritz, Paris, Jan. 24, 2005. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: With: Gerard Depardieu, Jean-Paul Rouve, Tilly Mandelbort, Lionel Abelanski, Annie Girardot, Isabelle Renauld, Yves Jacques, Elisabeth Vitali, Xavier de Guillebon, Valerie Benguigui, Cassandra Harrouche.

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