[Review] – The Intouchables

12 Jun

Title: The Intouchables
Year: 2012
Directors: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Writers: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Starring: François Cluzet, Omar Sy
MPAA Rating: R, language and some drug use
Runtime: 112 min
IMDb Rating: 8.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 57

The success the French movie The Intouchables has had is pretty damn amazing. It’s made $345 million at the worldwide box office, which makes it the highest-grossing film ever worldwide that not in English. Of that huge amount, a whopping $166 million came from France, where it was voted as the cultural event of 2011. So I’ve most definitely been very curious to check out this film, to check out what all the fuss is about, because this one’s just loved like crazy by most of the people who have seen it, earning a spot in the Top 100 according to IMDb user ratings, and with Omar Sy winning Best Actor at the last César Awards (the French equivalent to the Oscars), where he beat out fellow Frenchman, and eventual Oscar-winner, Jean Dujardin.

Having seen it, I do, kind of, get why people have loved this film so much, it’s a truly good feel-good movie that’s just meant to be a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s gotten some flack for not really delving into some of its bigger issues, and there have been a few American reviews published that has said it’s offensive regarding its portrayal of race, though the French have gone out to say that that’s more an issue with the American culture not being like theirs. And look, we could get into all that ‘deeper’ sort of talk, but the fact remains that The Intouchables is a damn fine movie, with two tremendously strong lead performances, and a direction that knows how to get and give exactly what the people want.

The film is based on a true story, one of those uplifting ones about a very unlikely friendship between two people. In this case, you have François Cluzet playing Philippe, this super high-class millionaire who becomes a tetraplegic after an accident, and Omar Sy playing Driss, a young ex-con of Senegalese descent who gets hired as his live-in caretaker. So of course this will be a tale of how these two men who would seem to have nothing in common embark on a shared journey and develop a friendship that sees them going through some funny and honest, at times painfully so, moments. These kind of films, you would no doubt be quick to point out, have been around for ages, but it’s the sensibility these two actors bring to their roles, as well as the one brought forth by co-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, that make The Intouchables transcend whatever limitations you may associate with these kind of movies.

Of course there are times in which this film indeed does hit some roadblocks posed by those limitations, but that’s fine because you get the sense that this film never once wanted to be some kind of great example of filmmaking, it just wanted to be the kind of film that’s super adorable, that can make you both laugh and cry, and that will be loved by audiences everywhere; and at that, it succeeds. Yes, for every great moment that this film really earns, there are indeed also a few moments that are actually rather cringe-worthy because we’ve seen then time and time again, but in the end those really don’t matter.

The performances are what sets this one apart. We know of course that Philippe will the uptight kind of guy and that Driss will be street-smart guy. And we know Driss will teach Philippe to recapture a joie de vivre, just as we know Philippe will repay him by imparting to Driss a new sense of discipline that he can apply to his own troubled life. These are, of course, total archetypes of film history, and this film, I would assume, surely has an American remake in development as we speak, but you just can’t ignore the charm of these performers, especially of Mr. Sy, who makes it so much fun to watch Driss encourage Philippe to start dating again or to try pot or blast some Earth,Wind & Fire so that he can loosen up. It’s just a good time at the movies.

Mr. Nakache and Mr. Toledano also co-wrote the script for this movie together, and they achieve a really nice mix of the comic and the dramatic elements here, and they take a much edgier approach to the themes of race and disability than any American remake would ever dare to. They introduce these two characters with worlds that clash in any way you look at them, and they illustrate brilliantly how they can learn so much from each other, doing so with equal measures of funny and deeper, complex emotions.

The casting they got was also a stroke of brilliance. Mr. Cluzet is this super respected actor, who uses a lot of restraint and insightfulness in his performances, while Mr. Sy is this much more vibrant screen presence with an amazing amount of charisma. Their pairing here is just as awesome to watch unravel as Philippe and Driss’ is in the movie; they feed off each other like crazy, they are what each other needs in order to excel, each performance made so much better by what the other is doing next to it. They are what make this film work.

I fully recommend The Intouchables. It made such a huge impression on audiences worldwide for a reason. Because even if it’s no great film, and certainly not one of the best 100 ever made like that IMDb ranking would suggest, because its treatment of a few important issues is indeed at times purposefully sidetracked by the movie. But the fact of the matter is that this is a film that only ever really wanted to please crowds, and that it will, because it has its heart in the right place, because it has a couple of directors that really know what to do to make this film irresistible, and a couple of performers that give it so much energy and charm that they kind of make you forget just how coldly calculated those moves made by the directors to please are. It just works.

Grade: B+

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One Response to “[Review] – The Intouchables”

  1. Dean Jacobs June 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    To give a bit more flavour to the review, here’s a short 17 second YouTube clip about the movie. Thanks for the write-up! http://bit.ly/NkBvZH

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