If a good friend of yours quietly told you that they had written a novel and were excited by this new found burst of creativity and that no less than France’s most famous writer, impressed by their talent, had encouraged them via Facebook to pursue their dream, you would be happy for them wouldn’t you?
If they then went on to secure a publishing deal, which led to a bestselling novel, film rights, public fame and adulation and then, as is the way with these things (at least in the glorious fantastical world of cinema) even more bestselling novels etc etc etc then you would be damn near ecstatic surely?
They’re your friend – of course you would be!
Unless, you are the friends of Léa (Bérénice Bejo), the aspirational-turned-actually-published writer in question of the Daniel Cohen-directed film A Friendly Tale (Le bonheur des uns…), in which case you would descend into fits of pique, jealousy and pettiness the likes of which would embarrass a petulant five-year-old on a bad day at kindergarten.
Karine (Florence Foresti), supposedly Léa’s best friend, does a very good job of acting like her worst nightmare enemy, greeting her bestie’s pronouncement of writing fulfillment and success with lukewarm support and excitement at best to her face and outright hostility and sniping behind her back.
Her response to her friend’s good fortune over dinner one night – Karine and her sweet husband Francis (François Damiens) and Léa and her narcissistically insecure husband Marc (Vincent Cassel) meet regularly for catch-ups as many good friends do – is to declare that she is writing a novel too.
Not only that but that she has inspiration 24/7, can’t stop writing, and that she is likely not only going to write her own bestseller but be the reason her friend writes one too.
For reasons known only to Léa who remains throughout the film the very epitome of grounded good grace, friendliness and integrity while her friends and husband abandon what little of those qualities they possessed in the first place, she seeks to support her friend in her near-instant creative aspirations.
This may seem like the default position for any friend worthy of the title and indeed it is but in the twisted circle of friendship and marriage that fills A Friendly Tale (Le bonheur des uns…) to the hilarious brim, it is the exception.
Sporting superbly good performances from all four actors, the film highlights how the better angels of our nature are often left sitting unnoticed and unloved in the debris while we scramble to entertain their less, more venal counterparts.
If you are thinking that Léa’s husband Marc might be made of better stuff, think again.
While the initial impression is of a doting man who cares deeply for his wife, the reality is that he is shallow, obsessed with corporate recognition, more willing to finish a crime film on TV than beta read his wife’s novel and apt to walk away from his marriage than support his wife.
Further, he is grumpy, prone to argue rather than fulsomely praise, jealous, insecure and not even remotely understanding of the time and effort it takes to write a movel.
Quite the catch then?
Frankly he isn’t and when at point he walks away from his life with Léa, you have to wonder why on earth she even wants him back but because she is a decent, loving and emotionally sane person, she gives the relationship far more unwavering support than it really deserves.
You might wonder then what pleasure there can possibly be in watching Léa, who remains very much her wonderful lovely self even as her world changes magically around her – magic is the key word here since her ascent to publishing success is the stuff of literary fantasy of the highest, most daydream-y order – try to keep her marriage alive and her friendships intact when the people with whom she consorts are so unlikeable?
It’s testament to the screenplay by Daniel Cohen and Olivier Dazat, some deft fast-moving direction and the aforementioned across-the-board stellar performances than you stay utterly engrossed in A Friendly Tale (Le bonheur des uns…) throughout its entire run time.
For all their awfulness as friends and a spouse, Karine, Francis and Marc are a ton of often-wince inducing fun to watch.
Much of the hilarity comes from their staggering lack of self-awareness, as they seek to out-compete Léa in life success.
As Karine dances indecisively from writing to marathoning – where she actually does do well – and Francis tries sculpting, electronic song writing and cooking (where he also somewhat succeeds and Marc, well Marc does everything but the decent thing, all while Léa stays happily content no natter how much her life changes, it is impossible not to laugh uproariously out loud, not once but repeatedly.
A Friendly Tale (Le bonheur des uns…) is a very funny film but it is also thoughtful, highlighting how happiness and success in life are not as cut and dried as you might think and that what many people equate as ticking the boxes in life is more about appearance and expectation than it is about actual inner contentment.
Léa has it, no matter where she is, who she’s with or what she’s doing but it remains elusive for Francis, Karine and Marc who don’t really deserve any measure of happiness but by film’s end have sort of achieve an approximation of the rich inner peace and happiness than Léa seems to have in quietly-content spades.
The message is unmissable but never feels heavyhanded, buoyed by a bright, bouncy narrative, cheerily upbeat performances and sparkling script that is never less than thoroughly entertaining, all of which makes A Friendly Tale (Le bonheur des uns…) an almost guarantted future standout hit when it premieres in France this September.