A feel-good flick that broke box-office records in France, The Intouchables boasts a natural-born movie star in Omar Sy, who’s gifted with the kind of charisma and physical grace the camera loves and audiences are helplessly seduced by. That may account for his walking away with France’s Best Actor César in a year when Jean Dujardin of The Artist won big everywhere else.
Sy’s ebullient warmth plays well with the more contained but no less charming François Cluzet, best known outside France for his own César-winning performance in 2006’s twisted Hitchcockian thriller Tell No One. The two generate such fun and good will in this Gallic Driving Miss Daisy (or Trading Places, Scent of a Woman, ad nauseam) that you can almost forgive the film’s breezy racial stereotyping, cheap comedy and phony-baloney attitudes toward art, culture, class, and quadriplegia. Almost.
Elegant, super-rich, a connoisseur of the arts, Cluzet’s Philippe bears his near-total paralysis with admirable dignity, putting a good face on what’s obviously sheer hell for a man who loved living on the edge. Having shattered his spine in a paragliding accident, Philippe depends on the kindness of caretakers, who come and go with depressing regularity. On a whim he hires Driss (Sy), a big, brash Senegalese man who’s applied for a job he isn’t qualified for and doesn’t want, just to keep unemployment benefits flowing.