The Intouchables

There’s scene in The Intouchables where unlikely caregiver Driss lets loose to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” in front of a staff of domestic workers and classically trained musicians. The display is such an expression of joyful abandon, it was at that moment I fell in love with this movie. Granted it’s a bit calculated. Remember that scene where Julia Roberts is singing off key in the bathtub in Pretty Woman? Well yeah it’s kind of like that. But nevertheless it’s the instant that I realized that this is a wonderful French film and Omar Sy should be a star.

The chronicle concerns Philippe, a quadriplegic due to a paragliding accident. He’s a millionaire in a palatial mansion and is interviewing applicants to be his caregiver. Driss is a black man from Senegal living in a Paris ghetto. He’s just been released from a six month prison term for robbery and is currently unemployed. The public assistance Driss receives requires proof he is applying for work. Knowing he is unqualified, he merely applies for the job in an effort to satisfy the requirements. I won’t reveal the reasons why Philippe hires Driss over more qualified candidates, but it makes perfect sense. On paper the set up sounds hackneyed and manipulative. It would be easy to dismiss the premise as a superficial examination on race relations. I certainly felt that way upon viewing the trailer. While it’s one of those crowd pleasing culture clash concepts, it fashions a tale that transcends the material.

The narrative explores the friendship between Philippe and Driss with tenderness and depth. The rapport of this implausible duo is explored in little vignettes that uses the structure, sans the love affair, of a romantic comedy. The account is based on a true story, and while the characterizations are unique, the set up is not. This is a buddy picture detailing how human beings want and need the same things regardless of ethnic or social class differences. Through discussions regarding music, recreational activities, even child rearing, we slowly get an impression of two men that have much more in comon than was originally believed. It’s the performances that elevate this beyond the traditional odd-couple plot. The honesty draws the viewer into their situation. There is a genuine chemistry at work here.

The movie’s charms are admittedly obvious, but the cast extracts emotion with sincerity. Driving Miss Daisy, The Blind Side – there are many precedents. What’s amazing is that the two leads make this subject seem fresh. As a quadriplegic, François Cluzet must act with his face only. Physically he suggests Dustin Hoffman. Although he’s not a household name in the States, he’s a veteran actor who’s been acting in French cinema since 1980. 2006’s Tell No One is probably his best known work. Omar Sy is part of a comedy duo in France. He’s nothing less than a revelation. Both were nominated for César Awards (France’s Oscar) in 2011. Sy actually garnered the prize for Best Actor besting actual Oscar winner Jean Dujardin. The drama has become a worldwide smash having already earned $350.1 million as of June 2012. The Intouchables grossed $166 million last year in its native country alone to make it the second most-seen French movie of all-time there. It’s even listed amongst the Top 250 films as voted by IMDb users. Despite these accolades, this has incomprehensibly earned the wrath of a couple American critics in really nasty reviews. They somehow detected ugly attitudes within the script. I briefly mention this because such allegations should be addressed as the distorted misinterpretations that they are. Make no mistake, this is an upbeat story with a lot of heart with two marvelous performances at the center. After all how could 17.5 million French viewers be wrong?

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15 Responses to “The Intouchables”

  1. Dying to see this one. Great review!

    • Thanks. I had to really seek this film out as it’s not playing anywhere close. I drove over 30 miles just to see it.

      • I’m with you on that one. I hate limited release, too. Because of it, I missed out on seeing Bernie, this, The Artist (well, I saw it eventually, but I waited way too long), Monsieur Lazhar, Footnote, and A Cat in Paris. Plus I probably won’t get to see To Rome with Love or Moonrise Kingdom due to limited screenings.

    • Bernie is still playing at our local arthouse theater actually.

  2. This movie is hard to find, but I finally found it at a local theater. I saw a preview for it and it looks touching. From your review it seems great as well. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as Moonrise Kingdom! Excellent review.

  3. Already saw this twice, it’s an amazing film and my favorite this year.

  4. I really look forward to seeing this one. Nice review!

  5. Great review. I’ve been interested ever since Sy beat Dujardin for the César. I did not see that coming!

    • The Césars weren’t even on my radar so had no idea until I watched this movie and then recently read an article informing me of the fact. I think what Jean Dujardin does in The Artist is more of an accomplishment, but as I attest in my review, Omar Sy is definitely someone to watch.

      • Just re-read your review. It is spot-on. That Earth, Wind & Fire scene was calculated, yes, but it brought me such joy. I fell in love with the movie right then and there, like you did. Omar Sy is awesome.

    • I’m curious about Michel Gondry’s upcoming French film Mood Indigo starring Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. Omar Sy has been cast in it as well.

      Looking forward to reading your review!

  6. Great movie. Why it’s not released widely here is a shame. People would definitely see this. Such a great and touching friendship. It’s one of my favs this year.

  7. I just saw this one at WilmFilm. I’ve never left the theater with a bigger, longer lasting smile on my face.

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