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Not Another Teen Movie

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Having confidently proclaimed that David Chase would learn the lesson of John Updike’s Rabbit and not kill off Tony Soprano too early (Come on, folks, he’s dead, dead, dead), I’m loath to predict what July 21—and the final Potter book—will bring. But the film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the best enticement imaginable. It rekindles the dread, the ache in your stomach that says, “He can’t die!”—and at the same time, “How can he defeat everything racist, repressive, and murderously Fascistic in the world without making the ultimate sacrifice?”

George Ratliff’s Joshua is a pretentious, secular, art-house remake of The Omen. It centers on a demonic kid (Jacob Kogan) and the clueless parents (Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga) who suspect the truth too late—and when they do, can’t convince anyone they’re not nuts (and who thereby go nuts). The movie works on its own terms. It’s hard not to be creeped out as the boy hovers over his smiley infant sister, and by the bumps and changes of pitch on the parents’ baby monitor. (Those things are an endless source of anxiety, especially when they pick up stray signals; mine once broadcast a shrink telling a friend about what a lousy, inattentive therapist she’d been that week.) But the line between eeriness and tedium is fatally fluid. And if not Satan, what’s eating this kid? The most interesting question posed by Joshua—as well as by the charmingly improbable Swiss comedy Vitus—is whether the average affluent, ambitious parent (in Switzerland or on the Upper East Side) is more disturbed by the prospect of a gifted but deeply screwed-up child or a happy but average one. The answer in many cases might give even Joshua the willies.

The prolific Patrice Leconte takes a break from mythic, life-and-death scenarios with My Best Friend, a sitcom that threatens to take a rockier emotional path before swerving back into the comfy zone. It’s better when it’s threatening, but Leconte knows his audience. Daniel Auteuil plays François, a ruthless antiques dealer suddenly confronted by his own friendlessness. Mais non, he tells his business partner (Julie Gayet), I do too have friends! Prove it, she says, kicking off that surefire farce staple, the potentially bankrupting bet. Auteuil begs a taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon), to tutor him in the fine art of eye contact, empathy, etc. Much hilarity (and poignancy) ensues. An hour in, there’s a shattering plot twist, but the shards reassemble themselves magically in time for a pulse-pounding climax on the French Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The film has been praised for probing “the meaning of friendship,” which I guess comes down to someone you phone when you’ve already asked the audience and used your 50-50.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Directed by David Yates. Warner Bros. Pictures. PG-13.

Joshua
Directed by George Ratliff. Fox Searchlight Pictures. R.

My Best Friend
Directed by Patrice Leconte. IFC Films. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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