Omar Sy walks with a swagger, even when he’s sitting down. He has a broad, infectious smile reflects not only the character he plays in The Intouchables, but also the film itself.
Recently returned home to a small apartment in Paris packed with children after six months “away,” Driss (Omay Sy) is a disappointment to his family. He applies for a job as a caretaker for Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a wealthy disabled man, solely so that he can be turned down and then qualify for government benefits. His attitude strikes Philippe as a refreshing change, and so Driss is given a one-month trial.
Driss sizes up Philippe’s magnificent residence — peopled by chief assistants Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), Yvonne (Anne Le Ny), and Marcelle (Clothilde Mollet), as well as a cook, gardener, and so forth — and decides he’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity to live in luxury, at least temporarily.
Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, The Intouchables is the story of the friendship that develops between Driss and Philippe, related in traditional, “opposites attract,” romantic-comedy style: They meet cute, then fight without rancor, come to an understanding, mock each other playfully, and so forth. There’s a whiff of Boudu Saved From Drowning, as Driss threatens to upset (and then tame and conquer) the entire household.
It also resembles a buddy-buddy U.S. cop movie from the 80s, a la Lethal Weapon: One is black, the other is white; one is from Africa, one is from Europe; one is rich, one is poor; they team up against the forces of evil and/or misunderstanding. There are many easy laughs, as Driss learns to care for Philippe. Driss, however, is not a stupid man; rather, he’s grown to adulthood and beyond without developing any pity for others, which makes it hard for him to empathize with how others may suffer from his actions. For his part, Philippe has grown complacent and melancholy due to circumstances beyond his control, and finds himself amused rather than offended by Driss.
Whatever baggage may be attached to the picture because of current racial conditions in Europe and elsewhere, The Intouchables plays as an intimate, inordinately warm, and quite believable drama with an abundance of comedy, buoyed considerable by the performances of Clouzot and, especially, Sy, whose laughter is as infectious as Julia Roberts’ in Pretty Woman. (The Intouchables is based on a true story, which doesn’t always guarantee a screen version that feels honest and real.)
Like all good friends, Driss and Philippe overcome their differences and focus on the things they have in common. For all its broad indulgences in stereotypes and sentimentality, The Intouchables proves to be much more winning than wince-inducing.
(The Intouchables debuted locally at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival. It opens today at the Angelika Dallas.)