The Intouchables (2011) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA rated: R for language and some drug use
Running time: 112 min.
Cast: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendi
Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Screenplay: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Review published June 12, 2012
A feel-good dramedy can cut both ways, depending on your mood and your tolerance for obviously manipulative storytelling, but every once in a while, one comes across as so infectious that it transcends contrivance into something nearly all audiences cherish. Such is the case with The Intouchables, which purports to be based on a true story (though probably not too true), and it captured the hearts of French filmgoers enough to become their nation's second-highest grossing film in history.
The film follows the unlikely professional relationship and friendship of Driss (Sy, Micmacs), a troubled young Senegalese man living with his family in the ghetto recently kicked out for disappearing without a trace for six months (jail stint) and a quadriplegic multimillionaire Philippe (Cluzet, French Kiss), who has advertised for someone to be his assistant for his round-the-clock care. Driss doesn't want the job, but would qualify for government benefits with one more turn down. However, Philippe likes his spirit and manages to cajole Driss to stay on. The odd couple step all over each others toes, but as they begin to bond, the two begin to grow, helping each others needs in a way their own circle of family and friends never could.
The film heightens the humor factor through Driss's observations on the pastimes of the wealthy aristocrats. He makes fun of classical composers, the pomposity of the opera, and the strangeness of the foods. The more Driss's observations offend the sensibilities of others the more Philippe delights, as if he had been wanting to break up the stuffy-collar parties with such comments himself. Philippe appreciates, above all else, Driss's no-nonsense friendship, though he does still year for the romantic affection of a woman. Philippe corresponds in 'pen pal' fashion with a woman he neither doesn't even know, nor has much intention of meeting, but Driss interjects, egging Philippe on in the hopes that he can see beyond his own disabilities what he has to offer, much more so than what anyone else might.
Other fun scenes involve paragliding, Driss's commentary on masterpieces of classical vs. the music of Earth Wind and Fire (to which he shows off some very impressive moves on the dance floor), and Driss's attempts to melt the icy exterior the redhead financial assistant of Philippe. There are some serious moments as well, such as Driss's difficulties with dealing with problems of his family, Philippe's inability to connect well with his rambunctious teenage daughter, and the labors of dealing with the pains, both physical and mental, of a near-fatal accident.
With a Cesar-award winning performance by Sy, besting out Jean Dujardin's turn in The Artist, no less, the film radiates from his charisma, along with Cluzet's infectious laugh, as we grow to love watching the two interact, and see the respect and admiration grow in each other's eyes for being the kind of person they are not. Some might dislike the film due to the racial composition of the characters and the stereotypes that typically follow, with the same criticisms of what they feel are well-meaning but condescending films like Driving Miss Daisy, but this is something one would have to bring in oneself in order to see, as it certainly is not the intention of the filmmakers to portray, so such criticisms, I believe are not warranted in this case. This is not a political film, or one crafted to ease race relations, or an Oscar shill, or one that tries to subvert any other major agenda than to make audiences laugh, smile, and feel a sense of hope. Simply, it's just two polar opposites who, alone, broken, come to enjoy the freedom and comfort the other possesses, as they find ways to cope with the hardships that truly ail them.
©2012 Vince Leo