The basis of The Intouchables is one we’ve seen several times before in which a plot will take two people who are seemingly nothing alike and from completely different backgrounds and put them together. Even though it’s the kind of premise that gets used quite often, directors/writers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano manage to make it seem fresher than usual by using a good dose of humor and getting a touching pair of performances out of the leads.
The film focuses on Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a rich tetraplegic who is looking to hire a new helper since he is unable to do anything by himself. There is a long line of applicants that includes Driss (Omar Sy), who merely presents a piece of paper that he needs signed in order to show that he is actively looking for work. He is told to come back the next morning for his paper and when he does, he is informed that he has gotten the job, which comes with a private room in Philippe’s large house.
Driss has to be instructed how to take care of Philippe’s every need which requires him to have a baby monitor near him at all time in case Philippe should need something. The more time the two spend together, the closer they become and the more we learn about them both. For instance, Philippe has been corresponding with a woman for six months via letters. He has never met this woman face to face or even talked to her on the phone, so when Driss hears about this, he decides that he is going to help the relationship to move forward, something Philippe is apprehensive about given that the woman doesn’t know about his condition.
As per usual with this type of film, it’s the budding relationship between the “odd couple” that makes the film compelling to watch. Here we have a rich, white Frenchman who loves classical music and can afford to be waited on hand and foot. Who knows what compels him to hire Driss, a black man originally from Senegal with a large, complicated family living in a small apartment. Perhaps he was simply looking for someone to get him out of his everyday routine, someone who would shake things up a bit.
It is this “shaking up” that provides a lot of the film’s humor. Sure, some of the scenes seem a little forced, such as when Philippe and Driss go to the opera, a scene that immediately brought to mind a similar situation from Pretty Woman, but it doesn’t make it any less amusing. Sy adds a wonderful comedic touch to situations like this, bringing out the humor in things that Cluzet’s character wouldn’t usually see. Though, when a character in the opera walks on stage looking like an overgrown shrubbery, it’s hard to imagine how he wouldn’t have seen it before.
Perhaps, in a way, Driss knows this is what Philippe needs, to have someone to joke with, someone to drive him around in fast cars, and someone who will expose him to other things that he wouldn’t normally experience, such as listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire. However, this relationship goes the other way as well. Philippe exposes Driss to classical music, takes him on a private plane, and even takes him paragliding. I suppose you could call this Philippe paying Driss back for the multiple experiences that he provided him with, making this a relationship where both men get the opportunity to change their ordinary lives.
Nakache and Toledano also provide an interesting dramatic counterbalance to the film’s humor with the relationship between Philippe and his pen pal. While Driss tries to push the relationship forward, Philippe becomes nervous about the prospect of meeting her face to face, something that we could see right away in his reluctance to even talk to her on the phone. His nervousness extends to the point where he secretly has another assistant of his switch out a photo of him in his special chair to one of him in a regular chair before sending it to his pen pal. When it comes time for them to meet, the tension in Philippe’s face is quite clear and makes us anticipate the moment even more.
These two stories are intertwined quite well and are rather engaging, which makes the ending a bit of a letdown in that, after a bit of a strange third act, the film just kind of fizzles out and ends abruptly, leaving you with a brief look at the real-life people who inspired the story and an update of what happened to them afterward. It leaves you with the feeling that there was more to the story and makes you want to see more, which I suppose you could call a testament to how enjoyable the film is. It’s still easily recommendable with its good mix of comedy and drama as well as the splendid performances from Cluzet and Sy as unlikely friends. It just goes to show that good writers and actors can work wonders with clichéd premises. 3/4 stars.
Now playing in limited release.
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