Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Ignore the treacly Hallmark poster and tagline (“Sometimes you have to reach into someone else’s world to find what’s missing in your own”). The Intouchables is far greater than its promotional parts. A sophisticated buddy comedy of the highest caliber, the highest-grossing French film of all time is one that U.S. audiences will similarly lap up…if they can get past the language barrier.
Following a brief but exciting tangent, the film rewinds to find wealthy Parisian quadriplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet) in need of a live-in caretaker. After hours of listening to applicants embarrass themselves (and him) with their philosophies on caring for the disabled, in barges Driss (Omar Sy), a Sudanese immigrant merely there to jump through hoops for federal handouts. Told to return the next day for receipt of his application, Driss instead learns that the job is his, complete with deluxe living quarters of his own. Coming from a gritty, hustling background, the security is a welcome change, regardless of the work’s less glamorous aspects. Given a probation period in which to prove himself, Driss nonetheless remains true to himself and is surprised to find common ground with someone so seemingly different, a slow-burning epiphany likewise experienced by Philippe.
Deeply in tune with the budding friendship at hand, the writing/directing team of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano resist cliches at every turn, allowing change to come about naturally. Instead of hinging on major plot points, the film is more interested in its core relationship and accompanying banter than having a problem to solve. As such, there are no giant confessionals or big contemplation scenes followed by heroic, life-altering action. When crucial information is revealed, it’s done so naturally, coming forth at just the right moment in Philippe and Driss’s friendship.
By remaining on a personal level, the film allows Philippe and Driss to quietly solve one another’s problems as their separate paths organically morph into one of mutual respect. It’s their ever-evolving relationship that fills their respective complex voids, and as the film progresses, their lives refreshingly change without the usual cinematic checkpoints.
With such professionalism at its heart, the culture clash comedy of The Intouchables is likewise refined. Rooted in Driss’ outsider charms, the jokes are funny without being goofy, refusing to rely on the cheap gags and absurdist elements that dog so many modern comedies. Far too smart for such crutches, laughs emerge naturally from the characters and situations, not from a screenwriter with a list of jokes, scrambling for a paper-thin plot to fit them all in.
The film is at its best when Philippe and Driss crack each other up, which happens often. Deep down, Philippe knows that many of his high-society choices are ridiculous, and when Driss tears them down (whether it be an expensive simple painting or a four-hour opera of a man dressed as a tree), Philippe can’t help but laugh. The highlight comes at Philippe’s birthday party, where a string ensemble plays one classical composition after another…only to have Driss hilariously undermine them all. “I know that one…from a commercial!” he says. Philippe does his best to defend these mighty works, but is all the while overcome with laughter, aware of the truth in Driss’ observations.
The Intouchables‘ greatest asset, however, could be that it never allows the audience to feel sorry for Philippe. Even when his condition causes him to suffer physically or emotionally, we’re never sucked in to depression. Driss won’t let Philippe wallow in self-pity and defuses each potentially heavy scene with expertly-timed one-liners. The overall benefits of his words are enough to forgive his motor mouth, which can be a little much at times. Even at Driss’ verbally excessive worst, however, the film is nothing less than magical. Get over your fear of subtitles and see this little gem.
Rated R for language and some drug use.
The Intouchables opens Friday, July 27 at the Carolina Cinemas.
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