DVD Review - The Intouchables

The Intouchables made $426 million in the worldwide box office, which is incredible. It barely made a drop in the United States box office, but its international revenues make this movie the second, most-successful, non-English-language film in history. The Passion of the Christ (2004) is the only other film in a foreign-language to top it.

The Intouchables was France's official submission to the 85th Academy Awards. It made the January shortlist but did not score a nomination. It was nominated for nine César Awards and three European Awards. The Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes both nominated it as Best Foreign Language Film.

The Intouchables won Best Foreign Film from the African-American Film Critics Association, as well as from the Goya Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, the National Board of Review and the Satellite Awards. The movie's lead actor Omar Sy even won the César Award in 2012 for Best Actor, shockingly beating Jean Dujardin in The Artist who won the Oscar in that same category. Despite all of that, I'm going on record to say that The Intouchables deserved none of those accolades.

The story is Goodbye Solo (2009) meets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) but nowhere near as good as either. Omar Sy stars as Driss, a black man in Paris who is poor and in need of money. He's also in need of a job, but, at the outset, he doesn't seem to want one. He seems to want a signature from a prospective employer. This will perhaps provide him with some kind of government welfare to sustain him. His prospective employer turns out to be Philippe, played by François Cluzet, who looks like a French Dustin Hoffman. Philippe is a quadriplegic who needs a constant caregiver. He hires Driss to be that caregiver.

The question at first is why. Why does Philippe hire Driss at all? Driss doesn't care about the job and he doesn't want to do it. Philippe is able to seduce Driss into taking the job mainly due to the fact that Driss gets to live at Philippe's mansion-like, luxury home, giving Driss his own stately room and princely bathroom with full access to all amenities, including the keys to an expensive sports car.

The problem is that Driss thinks he's funny when he's not. He also finds everything he does to be amusing or charming when it's not. He's constantly flirting with one of Philippe's other employees. She turns him down flat. Yet, Driss keeps doing it, and it becomes increasingly annoying. This builds to a revelation that is meant to be a joke but falls flat. In other scenes, Sy's performance didn't feel natural or right to me.

There's a scene where Driss is laughing at an opera that he attends with Philippe and Sy's laughter looked and felt forced and contrived. By the end, we're supposed to believe that Driss and Philippe have developed this bond, Philippe especially. Besides not liking cleaning up after Philippe and driving fast on the road, I don't understand why Philippe has any strong feelings for Driss.

Driss is immersed in Philippe's world, but Philippe has virtually no interest in Driss' world. I'm not sure I can even tell you how old Driss is. At times, most times, he acts like he's 18, but he could very well be 30. His family has certain boundaries but those boundaries are not all that filled in. Sadly, Philippe never asks. Even when one of Driss' relatives shows up at Philippe's house, Philippe never asks about that relative. If Philippe doesn't care about Driss' life, why should the movie viewer?

I don't really think the writers care about Philippe's life. We get how he was paralyzed, but I'm not sure what business he's in, how he earned his wealth. Besides his employees, I'm not sure I know who else visits him. His family and friends are nowhere to be found, which is probably an important point, but no time is devoted to explaining why he has no visitors.

The best, even though it was the most depressing, depiction of a person who was a quadriplegic was the Aaron and Jackson storyline on the British TV series Emmerdale. The storyline is available on YouTube. It's perhaps unfair to compare this French film to a British series that has the ability to be fleshed out over the course of six months, but Emmerdale often accomplished in one episode what this movie fails to do, and that's making the audience believe in the stakes of each of the relationships.

The comedy also just isn't funny. There's a line in the movie that, I suppose, is meant to be funny but falls so flat. Someone says to Driss, "You look like Barack Obama." It's clearly aiming to be a compliment, which Driss takes as one, but it might be offensive because I'm not sure what it meant. First off, Driss looks nothing like Barack Obama in terms of facial features. At the time, Driss is dressed in a nice suit, practically a tuxedo, which is not Obama's typical style, so if you're a person who knows no other black people, that sounds like something you'd say being that Obama is currently the most famous black man on Earth.

But, it's offensive if you're a person who knows no other black people besides Obama. If the point was to compliment Driss on his good looks, then name-dropping Barack Obama isn't the best. It's not to say that Obama isn't very good-looking because he is, but there are tons of black men who are better looking and who aren't biracial as Obama is, black men like Sidney Poitier or Tyson Beckford.

I don't want to go into a whole rant about all the reasons why saying Driss, as played by Omar Sy, looks like Barack Obama. There's all kinds of biracial issues that come into play that makes a line such as that off-putting to African-Americans like myself. I would merely point to movies that deal with biracial issues or discrimination amongst black people themselves like Brother to Brother (2004) or Feast of All Saints (2001). This film has no nuance or real understanding of these racial issues or any compassion to it, but would rather a cheap laugh.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.

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