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Film review: Uplifting and Irreverent ‘Intouchables’ Worth a Look

Intouchables 1For those who missed it during the Nashville Film Festival – or those who saw it then and want another screening – The Intouchables is back at Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 starting today. That is basically a positive.

Sure, a clash of racial and economic cultures isn’t new ground for films here or abroad; the square-white-guy-gets-liberated-by-his-hip-black-associate angle, even with the added feature of a serious physical disability, lost its freshness as a story hook years ago. But the NFF narrative-feature audience favorite has broken box-office records in its native France and elsewhere with a terrific pair of performances, an infectious irreverence and an uplifting message of change.

The story – told mainly in flashback – is inspired by a real-life situation, though the filmmakers have understandably altered that true tale considerably for their comedy. Phillipe (François Cluzet) is paralyzed from the neck down because of a paragliding accident. He’s a French aristocrat who has the means to live well but no reason to enjoy it – his relationship with his spoiled adopted daughter Elisa (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) and his beleaguered staff is certainly in keeping with the money-doesn’t-buy-happiness observation.

Intouchables 2Enter ex-con Driss (Omar Sy), a streetwise man who only applies for a job to keep his government welfare check coming. The two are initially wary of each other, but it isn’t long before Driss starts to embrace a more disciplined and responsible existence while Phillipe learns to let his properly coiffed hair down a little.

There are scenes where Driss introduces his boss to the mood-altering effects of marijuana, and a birthday gathering where the soulful strains of Earth, Wind and Fire replace more classical fare. It’s funny, though about as new, say, as watching Eddie Murphy have fun with similar stuffiness in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop.

But Sy – who won a Best Actor César (France’s answer to the Oscars) for his work in the film, beating out Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and becoming the first actor of African descent to win the award – and Cluzet really carry the movie on their talented shoulders. It’s often been said that good actors can elevate material, and that’s true with their interpretations of the roles scripted and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache.

Cluzet and Sy know how to handle comedy; but the two take their characters on believable arcs of change and growth. We connect with them, and root for them. That allows us to accept a feel-good film that covers some very old ground.

 

 

The Intouchables (www.theintouchables.com) opens today in Nashville exclusively at Regal Green Hills Stadium 16, 3815 Green Hills Village Dr. (www.regmovies.com). Rated R for language and some drug use, in French with English subtitles, 112 min. Written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. Starring Omar Sy, François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clothilde Mollet, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Marie-Laure Descoureaux and Gregoire Oestermann.

Intouchables 3*All photos by Thierry Valletoux courtesy The Weinstein Company.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).