A fiend in need is a fiend indeed
With a Friend Like Harry is a well-crafted, endearing homage to Hitchcock
Most people have had a friend kind of like Harry, one of those obsessively generous souls whose selfless motions serve only to distance, creating a perverse kind of resentment. Fortunately, most people haven’t truly been saddled With a Friend Like Harry.
We meet Michel (Laurent Lucas) during the course of a domestic-hell road trip, trapped in an unconditioned rattletrap with wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and their three squalling little girls. Taking a badly needed breather at a rest stop, Michel is washing his hands in the men’s room when he realizes that a strange man is staring at him. Sensing Michel’s discomfort, the man introduces himself as Harry (Sergi Lopez), a rather well off but long forgotten schoolmate.
Along with his sweet but rather dim fiancée Plum (Sophie Guillemin), Harry manages to wrangle an invite back to the family’s ramshackle vacation house for dinner, where he begins to show how strange a man he truly is, all but swooning as he recites from memory an adolescent and trés Freudian poem Michel had written years earlier for a school magazine. From then on, Michel begins to find himself the increasingly reluctant object of Harry’s obsession.
Unerringly devoted to the task of resurrecting Michel’s long forgotten passion for writing, Harry will stop at nothing—not even murder—to insure that his friend rediscovers his muse. In Harry’s eyes, the day-to-day distractions that Michel has accumulated since his school days are blocking his budding genius. Ironically enough, it is Harry and his increasingly erratic behavior and not the removal of perceived hindrances that serves as Michel’s rekindled muse. That is, of course, until Michel begins to realize that Harry is beginning to view Claire and the kids as yet another obstacle holding him back.
Hollywood doesn’t really make movies like this anymore—understated, dark and yet grimly humorous. Psychological thrillers haven’t been this much fun since Alfred Hitchcock bit the big McGuffin 20-odd years back. So it is up to the French, in the person of director Dominik Moll (Intimacy), to revisit the themes so favored by the master. Fortunately, Moll is adept enough to hear the music of Hitch’s style and riff off on his own creation, instead of clanging out rip-off favorites by the likes of über-wannabes such as Brain De Palma. Moll works here with subtlety and nuance, and while the plot revolves about murderous obsession, the violence is minimal, played off-screen for the most part. It is the characters who demand attention, not the standard Hollywood money shot of knife entering flesh.
Lopez is eerily effective as Harry, his vaguely swishy and non-threatening exterior concealing not a true sociopath, but more a spoiled and bewildered man-child unable to grasp why his murderous overtures go unappreciated. Sucking from the shell the white of a raw egg as Plum’s naked voluptuousness lies dismissed beside him, Harry shows that his true focus is palpable as he ponders his next move.
With a Friend like Harry is a well-crafted and endearingly macabre homage to Hitchcock, a piece that feels both of another time and yet seems timeless, echoing the past (especially with the spooky soundtrack by Hammer horror film veteran David Sinclair Whitaker) while remaining contemporary in themes.