There is an important truth at the heart of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's film The Intouchables: even the French can make nauseating pap.
There's nothing WRONG with this movie about a quadriplegic and his magical negro learning how to “live, truly live,” but there sure as hell ain't much to recommend about it either. It's well shot, makes fine use of Paris, has expensive set decoration and a few good Earth, Wind & Fire
tunes on the soundtrack, but, let's face it, if this movie were in English I wouldn't give it the time of day.
Our story kicks off as numerous candidates, as well educated as they are dressed, interview for a home care position. Behind the desk is a stunning redhead (played by Audrey Fleurot) but looming behind her is the wheelchair-bound Phillipe played by Francois Cluzet
. Cutting between each of these earnest (but BOOOOORING!) men, there's an anxious black man in sneakers in the waiting room. Finally he barges in and demands to have his papers signed, thus going through the application motions enabling him to claim his unemployment check. Phillipe is, naturally, taken by his moxie (most evident in his willingness to sexually harass his other employee) and, wouldn't ya know it, he gets the job.
His name is Driss and the gig couldn't come soon enough – his life in the projects is getting unbearable (he can't even take a bath in peace!) and the montage of him moving in to Phillipe's palatial estate reaches maximum yuks as “Ave Maria” plays during the reveal of Driss' new porcelain tub.
The Intouchables kicks into a Gallic Trading Places gear, with the lewd and streetwise Driss learning how to deal with White People Problems, as well as being Phillipe's caretaker. He helps him in and out of chairs and bathes him, but won't put him blood-circulating stockings (unmanly!) or glove-up and remove his impacted stool (gross!) Still, Phillipe likes having this guy around because. . . um. . . .it's fun to have someone swear and act like a jerk? (Oh, and to steal things?)
In time, the first of many heartstring-tugging sequences comes when Driss is awakened by Phillipe suffering horrible phantom pains. They go out for a midnight Parisian stroll, smoke a joint, stop in a cafe and yap about women. It's the first scene in the movie worth watching.
Driss, of course, has troubles back home (a younger brother making poor life choices) and, after he and his fresh air approach liven up the house (disco dancing at a fancy dress party? WHAAAAAT?) Phillipe releases him. “You can't be expected to push a man around in a chair your whole life.”
Driss heads back home to live off the dole, as if the concept of working in health services for a living were a criminal sentence. Before he goes, though, Phillipe whisks them away like Tony Stark in a private jet to go hang-gliding and drink champagne and “to live, truly live.”
Defenders of The Intouchables
might want to remind me that this oftentimes sexist, racist and classist film is, in fact, based on a true story. I say, “so what?” Just because something actually happened it doesn't make it automatically worthy of reproducing as a major motion picture. And I strongly doubt any of the characters really behaved as they do here – as wide-eyed caricatures , so shocked that people from different backgrounds could ever form a friendship if they had, you know, millions of dollars to play with.
The Intouchables reminds me of an old joke: “I've been rich and miserable, and I've been poor and miserable. And let me tell you. . . rich is better.”
The Intouchables and all of its sports cars and giant French houses is a Weinstein Company release, bearing all the baggage that comes with that name these days.