Driss is handsome, young, black and brash. He’s the sort of bully who stomps into a room and impatiently storms to the front of the line because he doesn’t have the patience to wait his turn, and he has the build and bravado to back that up.
He lives in a housing project with his long-suffering mom, is a little too fond of his marijuana and is fine with the idea of living on the state’s handouts.
Which is why he’s gone through the motions of applying for a job. He has no idea what working for Phillippe will entail. Driss doesn’t sweat details, or see the necessity for good manners.
Phillippe (Francois Clouzet) may be rich. But he’s nobody to Driss (Omar Sy). And he’s a quadriplegic.
“That’s a bummer,” is the first French phrase Driss can think of. “Don’t get up” is the second.
“The Intouchables” is an amusing, touching and intensely likable French comedy about these mismatched men — the pitiless punk and the immobile, lonely older man who has no need for sympathy. He knows how bad his condition is.
“These street guys have no pity,” he is warned. “That’s what I want,” he answers.
Driss is to be his assistant, his guardian angel. He listens in case his high-maintenance employer calls out in the night, helps bathe him and wash his hair. He makes mistakes — accidentally burning Phillippe, who can’t feel a thing. And turns up his nose and gripes every step of the way.
They bicker about the silliest things. Music — Francois loves Berlioz, Driss insists “That’s the name of my housing project.” Driss is into American funk of the ’70s (Earth, Wind and Fire, etc.).
As they get to know one another we start to see layers to each man — Phillippe’s gift for writing romantic letters to pen pals he fears meeting in person, Driss’s troubled history. Each man, in his way, is an outcast — untouchable. And each finds a way, reluctantly, to touch the other’s life.
Filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano tell this story in a flashback — an expensive sports car, a speeding ticket, the ways having a quadriplegic in the car can get you out of a speeding ticket. They set a semi-serious tone, and then proceed to undercut it with every funny scene that follows. Yes, this is a serious connection, a relationship that will eventually benefit both men. But it’s also cute — Driss badgering, betting and bullying the helpless Phillippe into making more of the limited life he leads, Phillippe reveling in the younger, healthier man’s ignorance and appetites.
Omar Sy is a force of nature as Driss, the irresistible force who meets Clouzet’s exquisitely contained, passive and resigned immovable object.
At times, the cute elements of this true story (stay through the credits) threaten to overwhelm it. Driss is unimpressed with his boss’s art collection and takes up painting, cracks up at his first trip to the opera and misses or ignores every social signal sent his way. But he also menaces the neighbor who blocks Phillippe’s driveway and pushes his boss –literally — into a better life.
These characters, and the actors playing them, make “The Intouchables,” in French with English subtitles, that rare French import that aims no higher than adorable and hits its target every time.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with adult situations, language and themes
Cast: Omar Sy, Francois Clouzet, Anne Le Ny
Credits: Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. A Weinstein Co. release.
Running time: 1:52