Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Intouchables

The Intouchables
Directed by: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano.
Written by: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano.
Starring: François Cluzet (Philippe), Omar Sy (Driss), Anne Le Ny (Yvonne), Audrey Fleurot (Magalie), Clotilde Mollet (Marcelle), Alba Gaïa Bellugi (Elisa), Cyril Mendy (Adama), Christian Ameri (Albert), Grégoire Oestermann (Antoine).

The Intouchables is a would-be inspirational movie that quite frankly left me cold. It contains two excellent performances, but they are shoehorned into the most obvious, cliché riddled, cringe worthy story imaginable. The film essentially trades on obvious racial stereotypes, that no matter how good the performances are, the film simply cannot overcome them.

The film stars Omar Sy as Driss, an immigrant to France from Senegal, who has just got out of prison where he spent six months for robbing a jewelry store. His Aunt, who raised him, no longer wants him in the house. He has nowhere else to go, nothing else to do – but he needs money. He doesn’t really want a job, but needs to have a form signed by potential employers that says he is looking for a job in order to continue to collect unemployment benefits. This is how he comes to apply to be a caretaker for Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a rich widower, paralyzed from the neck down due to an accident. He barges in, demands his form be signed so he can be on his way. Almost out of spite, Philippe hires him – and now Driss is stuck doing a job he never wanted.

But wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that Driss is precisely the kind of caretaker Philippe needs to loosen up and live his life again – and Philippe is precisely the employer Driss needs, to show him some responsibility so that Driss can become a productive member of society. At first, Driss seems hopeless – he doesn’t take the job seriously, he spends more time ogling Philippe’s beautiful assistant than he does caring for him, the staff eyes him suspiciously, and Philippe’s teenage daughter makes it clear she doesn’t want him around. But soon, Driss’ no nonsense approach, his wide, friendly smile, make fit in. And while Driss at first sees Philippe as a stick in the mud – an upper class, out of touch old man, gradually, he starts to see the real person underneath – the person who needs help.

I suppose a movie like this could work. Hell, it’s not a million miles away from a film like Driving Miss Daisy – although that film at least had the advantage of being set in the past, where the behavior of the old white person, and the younger black person, at least made some sort of sense. And Driving Miss Daisy never had scenes as ridiculous as when Philippe takes his first hit of marijuana (how often have the movie taught us that up tight people just need to start smoking up?), or a scene as insulting as the would be funny sequence where Driss puts on some Earth, Wind and Fire at Philippe’s uptight birthday party, only to have a bunch of square, old white people in tuxedos start busting a move on the dance floor.

It is somewhat amazing then that the two performances in the movie work as well as they do. Sy in particular is wonderful as Driss – yes, he’s playing a stereotype – the type of character Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor might have played in the 1980s (and apparently, Chris Tucker says he’s interested in the role for the upcoming English language remake – and that casting actually makes sense to me), but with even less dimension than those roles. But Sy works hard, and sells his character. It may well be a stereotype, but Sy plays the hell out of it. And Cluzet makes Philippe into a real person – not just another movie “handicapped” person whose courage we are supposed to admire. The two performances make what otherwise would have been an insufferable movie at the very least watchable.
Still though, I cannot say I really liked The Intouchables. Yes, apparently this is based on a true story (although how much is really true, and how much was made up for the movie is up for debate), but that still doesn’t mean I really bought the movie. The Intouchables is a film that has two gifted actors at the peak of their form – but the movie doesn’t trust them enough to give them more complex characters to play.

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