Published May 31, 2012Cinematically speaking, the physically and mentally handicapped often inspire change, confidence and/or the ever-valuable gift of perspective in those that have lost their way. Chris O'Donnell certainly learned a little something about the scent of women ("Hoo-ah!") and Tom Cruise discovered his own dickheadedness and the appeal of Judge Wapner to the autistic. And let's not forget the invaluable lessons learned from the irrepressible, chocolate-eating, shrimp-loving Forrest Gump, whose Ping-Pong proficiency and incessant running led to a glorious pity lay from an emotionally damaged hippie.
East of the Atlantic, similar life lessons were learned in the César-nominated French hit The Intouchables, only with the added dimension of racial piety, care of plucky, pot-smoking Senegalese ex-con Driss (Omar Sy), whose unlikely employment with eccentric millionaire quadriplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet) leads to a bounty of goofy shenanigans and heart-warming kinship reassurance.
It's one of those scenarios where the proud but despondent man of financial means sees beyond the gruff demeanour of a misunderstood hoodlum, offering Driss a job bathing and taking care of him when all he wanted was a signature as proof of an interview for the French government in order to continue collecting welfare.
Initially there are the usual misunderstandings and comic hijinks, with Driss accidentally washing Philippe's hair with foot cream and awkwardly manoeuvring his body between the wheelchair and bed, but eventually the pair bond over a night-time sojourn and a big fat spliff.
Even though this comedy-drama hybrid, which is actually based on a true story, is filled with formulaic contrivances, often going for the obvious gags, like a shaving montage where Driss makes Philippe into a caricature of a biker and then Hitler, something about the chemistry and pacing works quite effectively. The actors draw from each other's energy, creating a plausible friendship and resultant emotional impetus behind their individual struggles. While Philippe learns to get over his fear of rejection, Driss develops a new sense of confidence in his abilities to work and foster healthy relationships.
It's unfortunate that the light-hearted tone of the film comes at the expense of plausibility and secondary character developments - there's a subplot about Philippe's slutty daughter that never really makes sense - but the central narrative and proven formula succeed in their aim of warming hearts and generating laughs.
In fact, this engaging feel-good romp might even be the ideal alternative to a summer line-up of derivative superhero movies and cynical art films. (Alliance)