The Intouchables is written and directed by the team of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano about a rich quadriplegic man, Philippe (Francois Cluzet), who hires a man from the rough part of town, Driss (Omar Sy), to be his care-giver. Right from the off, I just want to say that I’m not going to use this movie as a stick to beat Me Before You with. How dare you suggest such a thing. Rather, I’m going to walk right past Me Before You and give all my love and attention to The Intouchables in the hope that Me Before You dies of neglect. I might make snide comments just loud enough for Me Before You to hear but that’s only so it doesn’t forget it’ll never be as good as The Intouchables.
Okay so what’s different? What makes it a better film than Me Before You? Lots of things but top of the list is the relationship between Philippe and Driss. They both talk shit about each other and do not hold back. They share scenes that are not about the nature of being paraplegic or working class and actually talk like human beings. As a result, what happens is an almost seamless mix of drama and comedy that flows naturally for the duration of the film. Most films with dramatic and comedic elements tend to keep the two separate, saying in a robotic voice “This will be a comedy section. Laughter is the appropriate response” and then “The drama has been deployed. Your tear functions should engage”. The reasons for that concrete divide in film is a part of the manipulation. Comedy makes you drop your guard so the drama can sucker punch you. Most of the time in these films the whimsy hits a peak just before the biggest dramatic turn so as to extract the most tears from you. It actually happens in The Intouchables however it is not as obnoxious as it normally is and that’s because of just how subtle this film is.
I’ve said already that there aren’t many conversations between Driss and Philippe that are about the nature of being paralyzed or working class. This means that something wonderful has to happen. That the film has to show us how these characters think, not tell us. No one gets an expository speech so instead through multiple conversations on different topics the characters express a perspective and we have to infer from these perspectives what they mean about the characters’ life. I didn’t realize until I watched this film again how rare that is and it made me love it more. The Intouchables sought to enlighten, not manipulate. Isn’t that amazing, Me Before You?
I mentioned earlier how the characters are evenly matched in this film and it took me a while to figure out why the relationship felt so sincere but I did. There are two reasons. The first is the fact that it’s a non-romantic relationship. They are just friends who laugh, listen to music and talk. The second reason is more important. The second reason is that Driss doesn’t have a mission. He does his job and he does it well but he isn’t there to “save” Philippe. He’s having fun with him because they developed a friendship not because he’s on a quest. If I didn’t know any better it would almost be like the film thought that a paraplegic person could have a relationship that wasn’t about them being paraplegic and we all know that’s not true. Don’t we Me Before You?
Am I being unfair? Me Before You was talking about a man with depression who cut people out of his life where as in The Intouchables, Philippe is a man who self-prescribes himself a healthy dose of Driss in order to adapt to paraplegia as best he can. Those are two distinct mindsets to compare but what I would say what I said in the Me Before You review is that it’s how the characters relate to each other that reveals the problems not the characters themselves. Characters aren’t plot points. They must operate as individuals. There is a depth to the characters of The Intouchables that isn’t there in Me Before You that allows for a deeper examination of life as a paraplegic person.
Before I rap this review up I have something to say. Omar Sy, who played Driss, was amazing. You know comedic delivery is good when it’s in a language you don’t understand and it’s still funny. His physical comedy and facial expressions give this film the positive, downright uplifting feeling that it has. I want him to be cast in all the things.
Overall then, The Intouchables is a hilarious drama that achieves what it sets out to achieve while defying some troublesome modern film conventions with subtlety over melodrama.