The Intouchables (2012)
Directed by: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

Premise: A wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet) hires an impoverished man (Omar Sy) to be his caretaker.

What Works: The Intouchables is a feel good picture that is very entertaining. Although the premise of the film suggests that it would be stuffy or sentimental, The Intouchables is neither and it is a good humored film that manages to connect with viewers instead of keeping them at bay. The filmmakers accomplish this primarily through comic relief and The Intouchables is a very amusing film, the kind of picture that will keep a viewer smiling from beginning to end. The humor is primarily situational; The Intouchables is an odd couple movie that combines a wealthy and staid Caucasian character with an impoverished but flamboyant African character. The film runs the risk of being entirely stereotypical and admittedly The Intouchables does play along familiar economic and ethnic lines but it isn’t trapped by them and the screenplay by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano fleshes out the characters to make them whole people who are more than their skin color, ability, or economic status. The actors take the material and run with it and both of the leads deliver terrific performances. The flashier of the two actors is Omar Sy as the caretaker. He is the fish out of water in this scenario and Sy gets a lot of opportunities for humor, sometimes playing the fool but also pointing out the foolishness that only he can see. But he isn't a total buffoon and the film’s depiction of his background and home life make him more than just a jokester. Less flamboyant but no less impressive is François Cluzet as the paralyzed aristocrat. Because of the character’s condition, Cluzet is limited in what he can do but the actor uses that limitation to his advantage and makes a lot of subtle choices with his voice and facial expressions that reveal a lot about the inner struggles of the character. The film emphasizes the humanity of the characters and The Intouchables manages to be an affecting film because the characterization and the themes of the story emphasize the dignity of the characters. Sy and Cluzet’s characters possess a basic respect for each other and in their activities the men share the small joys of being alive by indulging in pleasures like art, music, and food. In this respect the filmmakers of The Intouchables manage to get to something real and do so earnestly.

What Doesn’t: The Intouchables is a film that gets by on its charm. That isn’t such a bad or unusual feature; many of the noteworthy films of the studio era in American film like Some Like It Hot or It Happened One Night are not dense tracts on the human condition but they succeed because they are likeable films that are very well made. The Intouchables stands among those kinds of pictures and it is a pleasant film to watch although it is also a fairly perfunctory story. The narrative follows the standard format of an odd couple bromance and in its adherence to the formula the film features a hiccup in the storytelling. As in most buddy movies, the pair is driven apart by a misunderstanding but the issue that creates a wedge between them does not seem credible and neither of the men’s reactions make much sense. The film’s depiction of the relationship between Cluzet’s character and his daughter is also questionable. The daughter is clearly troubled but the film is so focused on the relationship between the two men that she is virtually ignored.

Bottom Line: Whatever its shortcomings The Intouchables is a terrific film. Like The Artist or Slumdog Millionaire it not a movie that is terribly deep but its outlook is so life affirming, its characters are so engaging, and its story is so charming that it is impossible to resist.

 

Episode: #405 (September 16, 2012)