An unusual friendship

Read some subtitles and smile with The Intouchables

When we first encounter protagonists Philippe (François Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) they are speeding through the streets of Paris in a flashy sports car lying to the cops and singing along to R&B legends Earth Wind and Fire. This scene is a flash-forward so we already know that the quadriplegic millionaire and the outspoken ex-con will become devoted friends. Just how they became so close is the meat of the film and it’s enough to make The Intouchables a sweet enjoyable experience.

The film snaps back to their first meeting as Driss belligerently jumps the line at a job interview at Philippe’s mansion and impatiently tosses a document at the wheelchair-bound tycoon. Driss doesn’t really want the job he just wants another signature to prove that he’s been attending interviews so he can continue to receive welfare payments. Instead he gets hired and finds himself living in luxurious accommodations acting as the paralyzed man’s “arms and legs.” Driss is crude blunt thoughtless and a bit mischievous. He’s also the only applicant who treats Philippe like a man instead of a list of daily duties to be performed in timid silence. Instead of using the more practical Handi-bus Driss simply lifts Philippe up shoves him into the passenger seat of a gleaming Maserati and takes him on adventures. Black people (like Driss) and disabled people (like Philippe) are rare sights in the affluent Parisian neighbourhood they inhabit but these two are far too busy living it up to notice any awkward stares from the locals. There’s a lengthy period of adjustment as the pair get used to one another but Philippe’s unlimited bank account and Driss’ joie de vivre make an unbeatable combination.

The two men constantly challenge one another to rethink their boundaries. Driss must get used to dressing another man and Philippe must get used to being asked what he does for sex now that he’s crippled. They argue about music and introduce one another to Vivaldi and disco. Driss forces an unwilling Philippe to telephone the woman he’s been writing romantic poems to and Philippe makes a terrified Driss try paragliding the very sport that put Philippe in a wheelchair in the first place.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in this picture but there doesn’t need to be. This is neither a wrenching drama nor a side-splitting comedy just a pleasantly compelling tale that warms the heart and delivers the occasional gasp or chuckle as we get to know these two worthy characters.

Based on a true story and already an international phenomenon (at this point it’s earned more than $280 million) The Intouchables is a much simpler tale than one might expect content to recount the details of a fascinating friendship. You won’t see anything challenging life-changing or unique in this picture; just a sweet meandering tale that will put a wry smile on your face.