Friday, June 1, 2012

The Intouchables

Button Pushers And (Mister) Daisy Pinchers In France

Anne Le as Yvonne, Francois Cluzet as Philippe and Omar Sy as Driss in the French comedy-drama "The Intouchables". 
The Weinstein Company


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, June 1, 2012

Easily the year's funniest film, "The Intouchables", directed by Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a cheeky, hilarious satire carefully calculated to cliché and button-pushing, more so than Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles".  The smash-hit comedy-drama from France expanded its release in the U.S. and Canada today, and it is guaranteed to have audiences in stitches, while some may be offended by it. 

"The Intouchables" is based on the true story of a relationship between a paralyzed white millionaire and a poor Sudanese immigrant who takes care of him at his home in the French countryside.  (The actual story involved a Northern African caretaker.)  Francois Cluzet is great as Philippe, a man of privilege seeking a new caretaker.  Omar Sy is far better however, as Driss, the Sudanese man struggling to make ends meet and make his family proud.  Driss is looking to make some money, and when he sees the opportunity to take care of Philippe he leaps at it.

The film begins in the midst of their relationship.  They joyride through the French night, a comedic duo who are much too smart and clever for some overzealous police who will stop them.  We see the warmth of these two very different individuals whose lives would ordinarily never intersect in France.  Both Driss and Philippe are more than comfortable in their skins and Driss, who looks so forlorn and melancholy in the bleak Parisian project estate housing he lives in, suddenly bursts to life when given the job of taking care of Philippe in his palatial complex.  Philippe's senior assistant and planner Yvonne (the terrific Anne Le) tries to keep these wayward kids at heart in line, but usually falls short of her goals.

"The Intouchables" has a joie de vivre and spirit that is irrepressible.  It alternates between the ice-cool world of Paris and the warm, golden French countryside, and features a fine soundtrack (including Nina Simone.)  An instant crowd-pleaser, it will resonate with audiences even as it lampoons previous and more serious films of its ilk like "Driving Miss Daisy", for example. 

The excellent Mr. Sy is the winner of the charm sweepstakes and his presence as an attractive, warm hearted and dynamic comic figure will ensure him work on the big screen for years to come.  In Driss he balances drama with an exuberance and passion that are boundless.  Mr. Sy is infectious and without him "The Intouchables" would fall flat.  Mr. Sy brings the same energy and charisma that Eddie Murphy did in the heyday of "Trading Places" and "Coming To America", both of which Mr. Nakache and Mr. Toledano's film seem to pay homage to.

The film's problem is that like its predecessors "Miss Daisy", "The Green Mile", "The Legend Of Bagger Vance" and countless others, "The Intouchables" slights its black character far too much, making the less interesting white character the center stage but without harvesting an emotional connection to Driss beyond what services and entertainment he can provide for Philippe and by extension the audience.  Except for one moment that comes late on in "The Intouchables" Driss represents every black character in the aforementioned movies in this paragraph: he can make the dreams of his white and differently-situated compatriot come true but somehow fails to do the same for himself.  This is the sole part of "The Intouchables" that frustrates; Driss is far better than the fate he has and should have been humanized beyond just one or two brief moments.

Mr. Nakache and Mr. Toledano aren't offending just to offend though; they are fully aware that they are lampooning the black-white caretaker movie genre.  In doing so they aim to offend and provoke everybody, whether expediently or otherwise, and they leave no stone unturned as they exaggerate stereotypes both racial and sexual, and make cinematographic choices that are calculated too.  None of what is seen is an accident, but the filmmakers get away with what many American filmmakers (save Mr. Brooks and a small few others) couldn't.  I wouldn't at all be surprised however, if an American remake with Dustin Hoffman (whom Mr. Cluzet resembles in the film) and Idris Elba is on the cards.

With: Audrey Fleurot

"The Intouchables" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language and some drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 52 minutes.  The film is in the French language with English subtitles.

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