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Intouchables: A fairy-tale version of the truth

3 out of 4 stars


A brazen hybrid of Driving Miss Daisy and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Intouchables ( Les Inotuchables) is the story of a rich, stuffy quadriplegic, Philippe, who is Taught How to Live Again by his uncomplicated, street-smart black chauffeur.

As for ragamuffin Driss, he learns responsibility and enough about abstract art to lob paint at a canvas and con a pompous dealer out of 10,000 euros.

A great story and here's another selling point: The Intouchables, which has broken box-office records in France, is based on a true story.

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Except, sorry to be a party pooper, Driss in real life was an Arab gnome, not a grooving black stallion. So we can presume the scene where he breaks up a sleepy chamber-music concerto by throwing on some seventies funk and expertly diddley-bopping across the marble floor, electrifying the room, is maybe a wee bit of a stretch.

The French movie makes looking after a quadriplegic more fun than it probably is. Three times we see Driss twist off a joint while he and Philippe are giggling about Paris. Only once does he have to deal with the boss's colostomy bag.

If such a ratio of high times to loathsome drudgery was the lot of every male nurse, there would surely be more young men entering the caregiving profession.

Ah, but where would be if we started punishing movies for telling fortunes better than they can be? The Intouchables works as a crowd-pleaser not because it's true, but because it's a plausible enchantment.

The film begins like so many fairy tales, with a poor worker entering a fabulous castle. The king is unhappy, alas. Multimillionaire Philippe (François Cluzet, Tell No One), the victim of a hang-gliding accident, sags in a wheelchair, listening to milquetoast goody-goodies recite their virtues in hopes of being his assistant.

Then in pops Driss (Omar Sy), barging to the front of the line. Wearing a hoodie, shouting out orders, the street tough demands to get his insurance card stamped so he can continue collecting unemployment. Come on, let's go already.

The rest of the staff is horrified when the king actually hires the joker as his assistant. "These street guys have no pity," a friend warns. "That's what I want," the king responds. "No pity."

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Driss brings life to the gloomy kingdom. Instead of driving the sedan into the city, why not take the Maserati Quattroporte? The chauffeur whoops revving the car's magnificent engine. "Feel that?" he bellows, studying Philippe's face. The king smiles, yes, feeling something for the first time in a long while.

In winter, Driss takes Philippe for a stroll in the snowy park. The joker starts a snowball fight. "You have to throw some back?" he laughs. So too does the king.

They share shenanigans, outwit the law, become buddies … complete each other. Driss knocks much-needed common sense into Philippe's pampered teenage daughters. Then, lo and behold, the Senegalese joker begins taking responsibility for his extended family.

All of the above takes place in fast, expertly played vignettes, with instantly recognizable party music, from Earth, Wind & Fire to Vivaldi, perking up the soundtrack. Sy is brave enough to overplay the part of Driss, risking caricature. While Cluzet as Philippe is wise enough to underplay his role.

Everyone here understands that castle fairy tales are more effective with the rabble when the king plays second banana to the joker.

The Intouchables

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  • Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano
  • Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy
  • Classification: 14A

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