The Intouchables wears its Hollywood heart on its sleeve
Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy. In French with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 8, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
In recent years, the Arab fact in the French cinematic mosaic has grown ever more pronounced, both before and behind the camera. Sadly, the same increase in cultural visibility has not been enjoyed by Gallic citizens of African descent. It is within the gulf between these two social realities that the phenomenal success of The Intouchables can best be understood.
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, this feel-good comedy about the unlikely friendship that develops between a paralyzed millionaire (François Cluzet) and a Senegal-born street kid (Omar Sy) has already made more money than any other non-English motion picture—mainly in francophone countries but in Germany as well. A more modest American release is expected to be followed by a major U.S. remake. On the other hand, the film has been dogged both by accusations of racism (courtesy of Variety) and by claims that it’s really a metaphor for the dismal state of French society today (this latter observation being made by far-right demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen).
For most viewers, the movie will seem less apocalyptic than this. This is because it’s so, well, Hollywood at heart. The pairing of the classical music–loving Philippe (Cluzet) with the pop song–preferring Driss (Sy) is precisely the sort of mismatched-buddy formula that Tinseltown adores. One is “handicapped” by his physical condition, the other by his social status. Between them, each manages to fulfill the other’s dreams. Ironically, this sounds precisely like the sort of project that Richard Pryor used to waste his talents on when the only work he could get usually came in the form of—wait for it—American remakes of light French comedies.
This said, The Intouchables is somewhat more appealing than the previous paragraph suggests. There are three or four really funny bits, and the chemistry between Cluzet and Sy really works. Throw in a great soundtrack and you have the makings of a good time. No more than this, to be sure, but also no less.
Watch the trailer for The Intouchables.