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.