The Intouchables opens Friday in select theaters (see times below)
The Intouchables is a series of fatuous scenes showing a Senegalese man named Driss livening up the world of his wealthy paraplegic employer Philippe, while of course learning a little something about himself in the process. It’s one of the most successful movies in the history of France, was nominated for nine Césars and won one of them, and is getting the Weinstein treatment here in the U.S. It’s also been accused (by Jay Weissberg at Variety) of “fling[ing] about the kind of Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens.” But is it worthwhile, or even possible, to be offended by something so stupid?
Writers-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s self-satisfied approach utilizes a repetitive structure of setup-gag-reaction shot sequences that goes beyond pandering. Their kind of filmmaking takes the attitude that pleasing the audience is such a simplistic exercise that they needn’t even pretend to do anything unexpected: They use Driss as a mouthpiece for the “I could paint that” attitude toward modern art, they put a joint in Philippe’s mouth to lighten him up, and they clearly couldn’t go without a scene of Driss changing the soundtrack at an uptight party to his own urban tunes. Their choices for the contrast in musical tastes excuse themselves from reproach: Driss likes Kool and the Gang and Philippe likes Vivaldi. Good newsyou’re both right! In fact, the musical selections in The Intouchables are so predictable that their clichéd use is called out by a character within the movie itself: This one sounds like it’s in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, this one is the hold music at a government office, and that one’s in a coffee commercial.
Driss is supposed to provide some soul, but what he really does is provide a body. It’s stated plainly that his concerns are physical and Philippe’s are intellectual. When Driss roughs up a jerk who’s been parking in front of Philippe’s driveway, it’s clear from the way Nakache and Toledano cut to Philippe’s face that the audience is meant to participate in the scene in the same way as the invalid. He is our surrogate: Like him, a moviegoer is unable to affect the action and can only vicariously take pleasure in the actions of the moving body on screen. We are the brain, Driss is the body. But after sitting through the insufferable Intouchables, a viewer is less likely to feel like someone suffering from paralysis and more like someone who’s survived a lobotomy.