Monday, June 18, 2012

The Intouchables: Even the French Love Middlebrow Froth

      It may seem peculiar to label The Intouchables (translated as Untouchables), a movie that features a tetraplegic multimillionaire ‘froth,’ but it fits.  Neil thought it sounded intriguing because it’s one of the biggest hits to come out of France.  The plot involves a white, rich tetraplegic (Philippe) and his developing friendship with his black, ex-thief care worker (Driss).  It’s been pretty much loved everywhere around the world except in the U.S.  Some critics have charged that it smacks of Uncle Tomism.  I’m not sure why two men of different ethnicities and economic classes having fun together is such an offense politically, but I guess I’m either not looking deep enough – and, as I’ve said, this is a superficial movie – or I choose not to look at everything popular with a chip on my shoulder.

Philippe and Driss On a Wild Ride
     This is basically a buddy movie and it proceeds smoothly and without much ingenuity or originality.  I guess it can’t be too original because it’s revealed that it’s based on a true story.  Why that matters at all is beyond me since this is
basically a slick, reasonably fun Mutt and Jeff comedy that is at least fifteen minutes too long.  However, the audience at the Esquire was visibly moved by this information and leaned forward to see the two ‘real’ people who actually lived this story.  I thought Philippe was darn lucky to have so much money that he could have a large, extremely loyal staff, a gorgeous mansion in the heart of Paris, a beautiful car, a healthy teenaged daughter, who was no more of a narcissist than most teenagers and neither a drug addict nor promiscuous.  It was horribly unlucky that he was left with no movement below his neck after a skydiving accident, but there was no ‘dark night of the soul’ scene in the movie and he refused any pity, which was the basis for the success of his relationship with the vibrant, essentially ethical, but poverty-stricken Driss.

François Cluzet as Philippe
     François Cluzet plays Philippe and, as Neil said he looks a little like Dustin Hoffman around the time of Rain Man, he’s wryly understated.  He doesn’t get a lot to do because he’s a pro and he must’ve realized that it’s Driss that intrigues the audience.  Cluzet was charming in Too Beautiful For You and a neo-Hitchcock hero in Tell No One, but he is unable to bring much of a romantic soul to this part.  He has an epistolary relationship with a woman and the plot makes a big deal about its complications, but really we’re only interested in his relationship with Driss.  If that had gone somewhere romantically, it might have meant something, but it likely wouldn’t have made hundreds of millions worldwide.

Omar Sy as Driss
     Omar Sy expresses a joyous, almost slap happy, presence as Driss.  He reminded me of Chad Ochocinco physically with Eddie Murphy’s wit, back in the 1980s when Murphy was still connected with the audience on all levels.  Actually, a movie about a star like Murphy trying to reconnect with a character like Driss might be very interesting.  Steve Martin tried to do that with Bowfinger, but Murphy was playing against (or with) himself, rather than with another partner.   He needs a buddy other than himself or an animal.  Enough of that, though, because Sy is the reason the movie works as well as it does.  I don’t know if he speaks English, but he could be a big international star if he’s so inclined.

     The funniest bit at the matinée wasn’t in the movie at all.  Instead, it concerned two elderly couples that came to the movie together, but couldn’t sit together because they couldn’t find four seats in a row and, I assumed, didn’t want to sit in the last row, which was empty.  One of the husbands didn’t realize what had happened because he was buying popcorn.  He sat next to his wife and offered popcorn to the person on his right, thinking it was one of the other couple.  The woman to whom he offered it said, “oh, no thanks,” and his double take when he realized it wasn’t his friend was hilarious.  On a sadder note, what will The Esquire management do in about fifteen years when its core audience can no longer attend a challenging or incisive or foreign offering because of death or disability?

Some of the scenes the guys described to me sounds like when I try to take care of them.  Or is it the other way around?

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