With a Friend Like Harry…

With a Friend Like Harry… (2000)
★★ / ★★★★

Michel (Laurent Lucas), Claire (Mathilde Seigner), and their three kids are on their way to see the children’s grandparents for summer vacation. In a cramped car with no working air conditioner, everyone is angry, annoyed, and exhausted. In a restroom rest stop, a man (Sergi López) who had just finished washing his hands stops dead in his tracks. He recognizes Michel, tells him that he is Harry, a former classmate from twenty years ago. Harry remembers details so specific that Michel figures that it is his own problem for not remembering anything about this man. Soon, Harry and Plum (Sophie Guillemin), his girlfriend, are invited to join Michel and his family in their vacation home.

Written by Dominik Moll and Francis Villain, “Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien” leaves its cage with early scenes that promise a morbid curiosity but it is ultimately a tepid combination of black comedy and thriller. Especially problematic is its second half, rife with situations driven by the swelling of the score, actively banging at our eardrums like gongs, to serve as signal that something important is occurring.

The slow rising action works for itself. Since the plot moves as a snail’s pace, our attention is directed to the characters. I enjoyed the way the parents look so haggard from taking care of three little girls. The first scene is most believable. I felt like I was in that car: everyone appears to be melting like a popsicle, children are screaming or crying in the backseat, while Michel and Claire are eventually reduced to silence because they know they are slaves to the situation. Because the family of interest looks like a family one can pick off the highway, they are accessible to us. So when the strange man enters the equation, we cannot help but wonder how or if we would have handled things differently.

Harry is nicely played by López because his character is difficult to read. There are times when I was convinced that he is not who he says he is and other instances I wondered if my initial assumptions were wrong. It is possible that he is such a seasoned liar that he considers his fabrications as reality. People like that exist and so whenever he speaks or does anything, I was determined to catch him making a mistake. However, once his true intention is revealed halfway through, he becomes exponentially uninteresting. Instead of continuing to build him as an original character, the screenplay begins to treat him as an archetype of someone who is dangerously clingy.

The third act suffers from a lack of inspiration. Despite the fact that I enjoyed its almost downbeat mood, the escalation of music is often akin to nails on a chalkboard. The incongruity of mood and score takes us out of the experience instead of allowing us to ponder and appreciate the little ironies born from the bizarre convergence of two souls who have the growing need to express their repressed feelings.

“With a Friend Like Harry…,” directed by Dominik Moll, offers good performances and has a consistently interesting situation. However, it is disappointing that the title character’s development goes on autopilot eventually. So does the last third of the picture. Lastly, I wanted to see and know more about Claire. She starts to suspect that something is off about Harry. Seigner does her best to communicate Claire’s unease but, like Harry, the character comes off underwritten.

6 replies »

  1. I do agree that the first half was superior to the second half, but I was too engrossed in the story to even worry about technical issues. I was curious as to how the story would unfold, and it didn’t feel cliche or predictable. I really had no idea what was around the corner – and that to me is the biggest facet to telling an intriguing story. I can forgive a flawed story if it can hold my interest and give my brain something to process that it hasn’t already processed multiple times before.

    I agree that keeping up the mystery of Harry’s character could have made it even more fascinating, but as you said the pace was slow (and deliberate) the first half, so I suppose they feel they needed the second half to speed up a bit. I do think this film could have been even better than it was, but the concept is so fresh and original that I can easily overlook where it lacked b/c it’s shortcomings weren’t strong enough to ruin the experience for me – and that’s what I felt this film was – an experience.

    You have to admit that the dinner scene the first night Harry was there was gut-wrenching on so many levels. HOW did he know all that information? Is this guy sane? Does he have an evil motive? Has he been following Michel? Or is he just a very intense friend?

    I feel this movie did a masterful job of building subtle, gradual tension. And that’s what I liked about it so much.

    • Even though in the end I thought it was just OK, I was glad to have seen it (I love foreign films) so thank you for recommending it. I’m looking forward to other recommendations from you. I’ll try to watch “The Hidden Face” tonight after work. I’m always in the mood for thrillers at night. Hahaha.

      I liked the dinner scene! In the end, I don’t think we are provided a sure answer of whether or not they really knew each other way back when. A good decision! In my opinion, they did. Otherwise, HOW would Harry have known all those details? Creepy! If I had a friend like Harry, I would have gotten a restraining order. Or called my friend Dexter Morgan.

      • LOL I agree! I never would have let dude come to my house, especially if I didn’t remember him; i guess Harry’s persistence was what made it so creepy/humorous. Also, not sure if you knew, but the director of “Boys Don’t Cry” is directing the american remake of this. Looking forward to that and to see who gets cast. They better do a good job b/c this could be a really fun theater experience.

        Can’t wait to see what you think of “The Hidden Face”. I’m not sure if you will like it as much as I did, but at the very least you will enjoy the experience. :)

        • They need to stop it with the remakes, good and bad movies!

          If Kimberly Peirce is at the helm, I can find reason to be somewhat excited. She directs the remake of “Carrie” so that can function as a litmus test.

          • I actually didn’t even see the old Carrie, but I know the gist of the story. The thing is with the remake how much different can you really make it; you may be able to do more CGI tricks, etc. but what can you really do with the story? But with “With A Friend Like Harry” you can mess around with the story. There’s room to take the story in different directions. Maybe they develop Harry more like you were mentioning; so this is a remake I am hoping could be really good! :)

Feel free to leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.