French film The Intouchables is what one might describe as a genuine crowd-pleaser. It’s a charming buddy movie with one small twist – one of the guys is a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, the other one his nurse.
When widowed millionaire Philippe (Francois Cluzet) appoints brash young black man and ex-convict Driss (Omar Sy) to be his caretaker over the more qualified men who applied for the job, his staff and his friends are outraged. But Philippe, who lost the use of his limbs in a paragliding accident, is tired of being pitied; with a free-spirited rule-breaker like Driss around him, he spots an opportunity to ‘live’ again.
Irreverent and uplifting, The Intouchables works as a sort of fairytale, as we watch how Driss is transformed by, and in some ways himself transforms his paralyzed employer. Starting out as an odd couple with virtually nothing in common, the two men slowly develop mutual fondness and respect over shared joints, midnight strolls through the streets of Paris, and amusing trips to art galleries and the opera.
Yet, there’s no denying that the film is unabashedly sentimental, and that it reinforces that tired cinematic cliche of the underprivileged black man as the soulful savior of the over-privileged white guy. If you can look beyond those quibbles however, there is a lot to admire about The Intouchables, starting with its complete disregard for political correctness. It’s hard not to laugh out loud in the film’s very opening scene, in which the two men get out of a sticky rash-driving situation because neither has any compunctions about using Philippe’s ‘handicap’ to their advantage.
To the role of Driss, Sy brings a distinct charisma and vibrancy, capturing your heart immediately. The actor won a Cesar award, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for his performance in the film. But it’s Cluzet, as a man who can express emotion only from neck up, who invests soul in The Intouchables with a carefully understated performance.
Based on a true story, this is a touching, enjoyable film that delivers plenty laughs. Pity they’re releasing the English dubbed version in India, instead of the original French version with English subtitles. Nevertheless, this is a film you don’t want to miss. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Intouchables. Make time for it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.