Short Reviews: The Intouchables (2011)


The Intouchables is the story of Philippe (François Cluzet), a rich quadriplegic man who hires Driss (Omar Sy) as his live-in carer. Driss turns up for the interview not expecting or wanting to be hired, only as a formality so he can continue to receive welfare benefits. Philippe takes a liking to his brash attitude and defends his choice in hiring a man with a criminal record because Driss is the only one who doesn’t treat him with an overwhelming amount of pity.

At first it’s much of an odd-couple movie – Driss is from a run down neighbourhood, has spent time in jail, Philippe is a monumentally rich man who lives in a mansion; Driss likes the musical stylings of Earth, Wind and Fire, Philippe is all about classical music and modern art. Philippe has carried out a relationship with a woman for six months via mail (in the form of poetic love letters), Driss can’t comprehend why he doesn’t just pick up the phone and call her.

Eventually, the two men begin to influence each other with their different world views, with things like Philippe opening up Driss’s eyes to the world of modern art, or at the very least how to exploit it for monetary gain, whereas Driss starts to shake up Philippe’s structured and reserved routines and bring some fun back into his life.

This movie (based on a true story) comes perilously close to falling into the uneasy trap of rich-white-people-help-poor-black-people cinema (The Blind Side would be one of the worst offenders in recent memory) but it pulls itself back from that brink by focussing on the dynamic between the two men.

The success of their story is that neither one of them treats the other as inferior or superior, just different. And from that, they both (eventually) appreciate the differences between the two and what they can each gain. The opening scene, where Driss races through the street of Paris only to fool the police by saying Philippe is having a stroke and needs a hospital (a lie Philippe acts out with gusto) is as much Philippe’s high-stake prank as it is Driss’s. Neither man considers the other’s problems as insignificant, nor do they ever treat them as insurmountable.

It is a warm and heartfelt movie as well, without playing things too treacly, although it still plays many of the familiar beats of poor-man-in-a-rich-man’s-world stories completely straight. But Cluzet and Sy both have great energy and charisma and bounce off each other to an enjoyable success

The film is not quite worth the mountain of accolades it’s received – it’s a very nice movie, but it’s essentially Driving Miss Daisy in the modern era, sans deep-south racism. It isn’t as patronising as other films with similar elements have been, and it’s certainly very enjoyable, and at times very funny. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re wanting a nice, heartwarming story that doesn’t feel like it’s playing you like a puppet.


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