By: Addison Wylie
The story behind The Intouchables is touching but it’s not earth shattering. It was a moving event in the lives of down-and-out Driss (played by Omar Sy in a fantastic debut) and for the classy, wheelchair-bound Philippe (played with equal greatness by François Cluzet) but it hasn’t had any impact on society nor are these two opposites household names because of the outcome their relationship has had.
But, that doesn’t mean this true-life story isn’t worth telling. It’s ability to be quietly affectionate is what makes The Intouchables resonate with us after the film has ended. In its own way, it’s as life changing as any movie based on any other real event.
Philippe requires a wheelchair because he is a quadriplegic. He’s well off with his finances, his living situation, and his live-in staff but he struggles to find a competent carer to tend to his 24-hour needs.
Enter Driss; who has a reverse lifestyle when compared to Philippe’s. Driss finds Philippe’s job posting regarding a live-in carer and sees it as an opportunity to get his welfare papers signed off on; showing that he at least tried to find employment. However, Philippe, though not entirely in love with him, likes the cut of Driss’ jib and decides to give him a chance at the job.
The friendship that builds between Driss and Philippe is what pulls us in to Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s dedicated film (to whom are both credited as directors and screenwriters). However, the film begins on shaky waters.
The comedy that blossoms at first isn’t exactly the kind that is wanted here, as most of it is based on Philippe’s lifestyle versus Driss’ more poor and less experienced. These differences are expected when two polar opposites are getting used to different circumstances but I wish these situations weren’t exuberantly played up. In a scene where Driss is observing his new digs and getting comfortable in his new room, we can accept his excitement, especially since we’ve seen his prior living conditions. However, he reacts to his bathroom in such a way that hints that he’s never seen a bathtub before.
Also, because we’ve seen all the fortunate, wealthy people portrayed as one race and Driss and other have-nots portrayed by a different race, there’s a dusting of a mixed message suggesting white people get more in life. I hate, absolutely hate, to take the review down that racial avenue but when the humour is emphasized in this manner and the lifestyles shown are so radically different, it’s hard to overlook the obvious.
All isn’t lost though. As the friendship takes shape and the bond between these two men grows stronger, the humour drifts away from the shabby race differences and focuses on how different the two are in personality. This is significantly funnier because each character knows how to push the others’ buttons. When we learn that Philippe likes to paraglide and Driss is afraid of heights, the expressions on Driss’ face as he suits up in a harness is hilarious.
Likewise can be said for when Driss is assisting Philippe. Since the passing of his wife, Philippe makes it clear that he’s nervous when getting romantically involved with women and that he’s scared at the reaction he’ll get when other people discover his disability. Driss makes arrangements that will help Philippe overcome his fears. Driss never has a mean spirited bone in his body. Each situation that’s set up or piece of advice he issues Philippe is done respectfully and lovingly.
The story inevitably wins us over and we’re thankful we now know the story of how these two met. Once the initial and awkward comedy has made its mark and exits the film, the audience realizes that both Nakache and Toledano have made a very heartfelt and honest film that shows the importance and power behind a true friendship.
North America may be getting to see this film in theatres in June 2012 but it has already captured the hearts of many in France. It’s earned the title of “the second most successful French film of all time”. It’s easy to see how those movie goers were whisked away by The Intouchables.