An unlikely friendship develops when Philippe, a wealthy nobleman recruits Driss, a commoner from the projects, to be his personal assistant. Philippe and Driss are both French and that’s about where the similarities end. The older Philippe is a jet-setting aristocrat who enjoys fine impressionist paintings and the haunting music of Chopin. The smooth talking Driss prefers hanging out on the street corner with his “friends in low places” along with the soulful sounds of the Studio 54 era.
The Intouchables is based on a true story, which is usually enough to pique the interest of skeptical American audiences. But the fact that it’s heavy on dialogue and subtitles and has almost no massive explosions might have spelled certain doom for this quirky foreign comedy. That is if it were not for the incredible chemistry between Francois Cluzet, who looks like Dustin Hoffman’s long lost twin and the charismatic Omar Sy. Although both are unknown actors here at home, they are veterans of the stage and screen in their native France.
When tragedy strikes, it is often the victim’s response to their unfortunate circumstances that will eventually define them. There are certain characteristics that have been medically proven to help adapt and eventually overcome the anguish associated with severe conditions. A sense of humor and a childlike, sometimes naïvly optimistic outlook will usually help maintain sanity.
When Philippe suffers a tragic loss followed by a near death experience leaving him paralyzed, he somehow soldiers on and manages to maintain a somewhat normal life. He keeps most people around him at arms length, rarely complaining although he is in almost constant pain and often struggles to catch his breath. In order to win his daughters love, he prefers not to interfere with her life.
Dealing with demoralizing situations can often lead to family members and close friends wanting to avoid the subject of illness or disability in order to protect their loved ones from unnecessary embarrassment. This type of behavior, while rooted in good intentions can stifle frank and open discussions, which can in turn reduce the ability to connect as well as identify commonalities.
Driss reveals a sincere willingness to learn about Philippes’ disability, breaching taboo subjects of how he is able to satisfy his sexual appetite and pointedly joking about invalids. Drawing intense bouts of laughter from his older normally straightlaced employer. Driss is not without his own emotional demons. He is the product of a broken
home with many brothers and sisters and a single mother struggling to make ends meet.
The reason why this film works so well is because Philippe and Driss both display what so many people miss, the juice of life. They aren’t afraid to laugh out loud, dance wildly or keep searching for love no matter how painful it is to move on.