Intouchables [The Intouchables] (2011)

(On Cable TV, December 2014)  Some movies seem to come out of nowhere even when you’re paying attention, and so I recently realized that I hadn’t seen Intouchables even though it had received an astonishing number of box-office admissions, reviews, awards and popular votes on IMDB.  Of course, North-America viewers may be excused: The film wasn’t widely released in the US, but was a striking success elsewhere in the world (including in its native France, when it raked up more than 19 million tickets sold) and if you check the details of its high IMDB ranking, you can see the difference.  You will ask, of course, whether the film deserves this overseas success, and the answer will be comforting: As a story about a paraplegic French aristocrat who hires a poor black man as his caretaker, Intouchables has almost all of the checklist items for heartwarming Oscar-bait movies: Physical disability, class struggle, romance, triumph-of-the-human-spirit stuff, etc.  But Intouchables does more than the strict minimum, most remarkably allowing us early on to laugh along with the disabled character rather than being put off by his condition.  The first five minutes, remarkably enough, give us a nighttime car chase through Paris highways that results in a high-comedy sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film.  Disability here isn’t to be pitied, and while most of the film revolves around the impoverished, borderline-criminal young man (Omar Sy, in a compelling performance) who becomes an aristocrat’s caretaker, the far more interesting character is the aristocrat (played by François Clouzet, incredibly likable) who voluntarily chooses to entrust his life to such an irreverent character.  It’s based on a true story, but loosely enough not to matter.  While the film does have a number of lengthy moments, a weak ending and some on-the-nose segments, it’s insidiously effective –by the time it’s over, it manages to follow a fairly rote formula in a way that’s lively and entertaining enough to be enjoyable.

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