Without a doubt, The Intouchables proves that humor can be found even in unfortunate situations with the right mindset. A film about a quadriplegic and his caretaker shouldn’t be this fun, yet writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano pull it off with the perfect amount of heart, humor, and adventure. Based on a true story, the film follows a wealthy quadriplegic that hires a young man from the projects to take care of him. Despite everything saying that this is a bad idea, Philippe (François Cluzet) thinks Driss (Omar Sy) holds the key to genuine sympathy and a say-anything attitude that is sorely missing in his life. Throughout their journey they grow and learn more than they could have expected. They also are wild spirits at heart and despite Philippe’s obvious handicap, the two manage to get up to all sorts of hijinks.
The film’s central theme is easy to understand. With Phillipe’s handicap, everyone treats him as beyond special. He is above jokes and fun, surely. Because of modern technology, the doctors can extend his life for years despite how unfulfilling it has become. Even his family seems to be simply waiting for him to pass on so they can inherit the wealth he has amassed. Taking care of him is a full time job, and he has gone through innumerable live-in caregivers that will be at his every beck and call inside his sprawling mansion in France. Looking for the next sacrificial lamb, Driss shows up without any desire for a real job. Instead he is just looking to get his paperwork signed so he can claim he applied for three jobs and still can’t find work, thus getting government benefits.
Driss isn’t afraid to speak his mind. When he first meets Philippe he focuses his attention on hitting on Phillipe’s personal assistant instead. But he makes an impression, and Philippe sense that with the right push Driss might rise to the occasion or crash. Either way, it will be a new experience for Philippe. While Philippe is caucasian and Driss is black, the racial differences aren’t what truly comes into play. Instead, it is the class distinction, which is a refreshing change of pace for films like this. At one point, Driss invites the pretty personal assistant into his room to showcase a very important piece of luxury: a beautiful island bathtub, all his own. The assistant, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), is non-plussed but the audience reacted with laughter. Earlier in the film we see Driss trying to take a bath in the projects while two of his siblings are brushing their teeth at a sink in the same room. Simple luxuries are only simple when you have them for a while.
Just ask Philippe about the use of a limb. People take things for granted and never realize what a gift they have until it is lost. That’s an easy lesson, but one we often forget. Wide-eyed Driss has to balance the luxuriant surroundings with the responsibility of taking care of Philippe. Driss jokes with him and never squanders an opportunity to ask “Why not?”. He refuses to take the dull handicap van and instead eyes the gorgeous Aston Martin. “Why not,” he asks. “Because it’s impractical” is Philippe’s response, yet from there on you never see the two driving in anything but the Aston Martin. In many ways, Philippe takes a vicarious pleasure in the joys that Driss has, but they both benefit. The constant questioning of the norm results in Philippe being pushed from his comfort zone, many times for the better.
There’s nothing spectacular about the production values of the film, though there is a moment of paragliding that seems like it made use of the actual actors involved thousands of feet in the air. Sometimes it felt fake simply because it was hard to believe the actors would actually sign up for that, but it passed the eye test again and again. Otherwise the film’s production doesn’t stub its own toe. The real treat here is the story. The journey of two people from vastly different backgrounds that manage to add something to one another’s lives in a valuable and beneficial way. In a world full of cynicism it’s a great welcome to have a film that is refreshingly honest in the charms and truths it presents. Driss is abrupt, but he has a good heart. He hasn’t had a lot of people put faith in him. Perhaps that’s as much his fault and anyone else’s, but those issues aren’t delved into much. He comes to us with baggage yet you can’t help for fall for him. And I couldn’t help but fall for The Intouchables.