Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Intouchables

If the French box-office hit “The Intouchables” (another terrible title), about a paralyzed jillionaire who hires a black street tough as his caretaker, is supposed to be the feelgood movie of the summer, why did it make me so queasy? Oh, yeah – because it’s a minstrel show. Omar Sy plays Driss, the Senegalese small-timer whom François Cluzet’s Philippe picks for the job because of his ostensible indifference to it (he only shows up to his appointment to qualify for unemployment benefits) and the “lack of pity” his stuffy brother warns him is endemic to Driss’s type. Sy won a César for his performance, and I’m happy for him, but you may blanch when the filmmakers have Driss shuck and jive to Earth, Wind & Fire after taking childish potshots at Philippe’s beloved classical music.

Throughout, Driss remains a concept, not a real person; his back story is so blurrily drawn the camera almost seems to go out of focus on the handful of detours back to the ‘hood. Material involving the daughter adopted by Philippe and his late wife, and her romance with a local longhair, goes nowhere. The filmmakers seem to realize this, shunting the girl offscreen as quickly as possible; though their main theme seems to be the fun of being rich and white with a young black guy living in the house, she’s too mousy even to sop up a little vicarious “Curb Your Enthusiasm” street cred. The movie has a nice, politically incorrect sense of humor (“Where do you find an invalid?” Answer: Wherever you left him), but it’s basically bullshit. The truest moment comes when Driss shoots down the pen-pal romance that leads to Philippe’s climactic meeting with his new lady love. He listens to a few sentences of the poetry Philippe dictates to his secretary, “something about angels eating daisies,” and storms out.

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