It’s not clear if the story told in The Intouchables is a true story, simply inspired by a true story or a fictional story claiming to be based on a true story but one thing is clear—it’s a charming story.
The plot focuses on the coming together of two individuals from entirely dissimilar backgrounds. One is a 20-something black man from humble means who’s struggling to find his way through life while the other is a middle-aged very wealthy white man who’s “only” clear challenge is that he’s a quadriplegic. Their lives intersect one morning while the latter (Francois Cluzet) is interviewing a group of potential caregivers. The prospects include the former (Omar Sy) who’s only there to be turned down for the job in order to qualify for France’s version of Unemployment Insurance. Of course he impresses and gets the job despite his best/worst effort.
The movie then becomes a tale of opposites bringing out the very best in each other and growing into fast friends across the board. Along the way we get some nice minor sub-plots and some touching moments.
The film isn’t without issues however. There are several characters along the way that seem far more important than we end up experiencing and it made me wonder about editing. There’s also a bigger shadow I’ll leave for the end.
For me this was a curious and original tale that I thoroughly enjoyed. Francois Cluzet was so convincing that I wondered if, in fact, he was paralyzed in real life. He even had the most realistic looking tracheotomy scar I’ve ever seen. Then I realized he was the lead in another excellent foreign film (Tell No One) where he was anything but paralyzed. One strange thought I couldn’t shake with Cluzet is how much he looked like Dustin Hoffman at times. I kept wondering about an American remake but that seems unlikely.
The shadow I mentioned is not a small one and one reason why I’m confident we won’t see this redone here. The combination of that plot line and this being a French film will, most likely, turn off more than a few American viewers who would, no doubt, find this to be vindication of all their beliefs about a number of stereotypes as portrayed. Others may see the film as a tone-deaf effort especially given some key “jokes” in the film that likely play rather differently to French audiences. In fact, Variety‘s own review calls the film “Untouchable” and voices that exact concern quite unabashedly.
In retrospect the sheer number of race-based references is a bit staggering and over-the-top hitting just about every possible angle but that perspective is the cynical view and misses the bigger picture—that it’s a typical opposite’s attract story that still works.