The Intouchables (***)

An enjoyable enough crowd pleaser that was heavily nominated by France’s César Awards (winning one for Best Actor and receiving another 8 nominations), ‘The Intouchables’ is a mature comedy that handles its potentially tough subject matter well, but never elevates things to the level of something more than simply entertaining. There’s nothing really wrong with the flick, but numerous opportunities to make itself into something unique and more than a slightly different version of something we’ve seen many times before are either outright ignored or simply glossed over. My issues with the story and the choices that the screenplay makes for its characters notwithstanding, the direction by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (who also wrote the script) is solid and the acting is all around excellent by the cast, especially leads Omar Sy and François Cluzet. Happily, each time I was worried that film was about to begin disappointing me, the acting and humor in the flick brought me back in. I’m not as big a fan of this movie as many seem to be, but I had a pleasant time with it and it’s definitely a movie that audiences willing to deal with subtitles will enjoy. It’s just not as good as it could/should have been in my eyes.  That being said, it’s far from bad.

The film is another in a long line of men with opposite lives helping each other out, but this one has the twist of not only being based on a true story, but involving a handicapped millionaire and his improbable aide from the wrong side of the tracks as well. The quadriplegic is Philippe (Cluzet), an aristocrat who longs more for his lost love than for the use of his limbs. He’s seeking a new caretaker to join the staff in his mansion and assist in his day to day living. Dozens of people apply for this presumably high paying job, but Philippe doesn’t seem interested in them. However, when Driss (Sy) comes in wanting to apply just to be eligible to receive government benefits, something catches Philippe’s eye and he hires Driss, a not quite reformed thief and troublemaker. Terribly unsuited for the gig initially, he requires quite a bit of help from the rest of the staff, including Yvonne (Anne Le Ny). What Driss has that Philippe admires, above his strength, is that he lacks pity, something he no longer wants foisted upon him. Soon enough, they become close and the relationship becomes more that of friends as opposed to caretaker and quadriplegic.

Above all else, the acting is the film’s biggest asset. Sharing co-leading man status are Omar Sy and François Cluzet, both of whom do very strong work here. Sy initially comes off as a poor guy from the wrong side of the tracks just wanting to take the easy route in life, but this job changes him (even if the script doesn’t exactly sell the change), and it shows in the performance. He’s often jubilant and has great chemistry with Cluzet, a necessity here since this is essentially a classy bromance of sorts. Cluzet gives the slightly better performance, making you feel for this man who never comes off as a truly stuffy rich guy. He’s rather good natured and just wants the most out of life possible. As I just said, both actors have great chemistry with each other, but that also extends to the rest of the cast. Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, and Clotilde Mollet, among others, all turn in fine work, and the ensemble is truly a highlight, as previously mentioned.

The direction by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is simple but fitting for the production. They direct their actors quite well and keep things moving well, even if the film runs about 10 minutes too long. The screenplay isn’t quite as good, though it’s serviceable. Nakache and Toledano just never come up with anything to elevate this from a good to a great film. They pepper the flick with a few small inspirational moments that make you smile, and the humor is consistently good natured and amusing, but there’s no one moment that makes you really stand up and cheer, and I wanted that badly.

Overall there’s lots to like about ‘The Intouchables’ and its flaws are very few. Now, it’s not a huge success to me like it is and was for others (it was a huge hit in France last year at the box office before it started the awards run), but I fully understand what Harvey Weinstein sees in this film. If you don’t mind subtitles (and if you do, stay tuned for the remake now in development from The Weinstein Company with Colin Firth and Paul Feig), you should have no problem enjoying this, as it’s probably the best foreign film of the year so far that I’ve come across. That’ll likely change when all is said and done for 2012, but for now it stands alone. In short…I liked it, I just didn’t love it.

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