Movie Review: The Intouchables

By Stephen Rebello

Rebello reviews the second most successful film of all time. But is it worth the price of admission?

Directors: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano MPAA Rating: R Studio: Alliance Films

The Intouchables, a French import directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, is based, oddly enough, on a true story. The crowd-pleasing buddy comedy-drama, a surprise box-office smash in France, stars François Cluzet as Philippe, a cultured, isolated, charming millionaire Parisian businessman left quadriplegic by a paragliding accident. Refusing to be pitied, patronized by his staff and business managers and estranged from his family, he hires a caretaker on a one-month trial: a poor, unemployed, loudmouth, pot-smoking petty criminal, Driss, played by Omar Sy. 

In true buddy movie fashion, these two couldn’t be less alike in social class, race, life experience and outlook, yet, both outcasts, they become friends. The boisterous, uncouth Driss takes his stuffy boss on wild rides in the underused Lamborghini and hires him Asian hookers, constantly tries to put the make on his sexy secretary, intervenes in the life of his spoiled 16-year-old daughter, and forces him to finally meet the pen pal to whom he’s been writing poetic love letters. Meanwhile, although the aide has his own family woes and personal issues to deal with, he still finds time to do a lot of grinning, laughing, and dancing and head-popping to Earth, Wind & Fire classics. As written, he’s more than a bit of a literary and cinematic racial stereotype — the uneducated but worldly-wise, life-affirming, soulful black who pretty much only exists to enrich the life of a rich white person. But beyond the ancient Magic Negro stereotype that surfaces in movies like Driving Miss Daisy and The Legend of Bagger Vance, the character can also be seen as his boss’ Zorba, his Peter Pan, the Maude to his Harold. 

Credit the insanely charismatic and likeable Sy, who won the 2012 César for Best Actor, with making the character unforgettable. In real life, the character played by Sy is actually of Algerian descent, an Arab. Interesting that the filmmakers chose not to go there. The movie’s big laughs, charming supporting characters, irreverent attitude toward disability, and Sy and Cluzet’s enjoyable byplay may help at least some audiences to overcome its more questionable underpinnings.     


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