For some reason, movies have a hard time with friendships. Romantic relationships are no problem; in fact, you could argue that is cinema’s favorite subject. But friendship is always mishandled.
Movies about female friendships usually wind up being weepy downers (see: “Beaches,” “Steel Magnolias,” or “Thelma and Louise”) and movies about male friendships have to be dressed up with action (see: buddy-cop movies like “Lethal Weapon”) or outrageous comedy (see: “The Hangover” or any Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor movie).
And don’t even think about a platonic male/female friendship as a whole movie was dedicated to that impossibility (see: “When Harry Met Sally”).
For some reason honest, straightforward movies about the most common and relatable human relationship remain elusive.
Leave it to the French to make the best effort in a long time with the delightful film “The Intouchables.” Based on a true story, the movie chronicles the unlikely friendship of a wealthy quadriplegic named Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and his caretaker Driss (Omar Sy).
Injured in a paragliding accident, Philippe is an obscenely wealthy widower whose frustration with pretty much everything makes life difficult for his household staff and his teenage daughter.
Philippe suffers no fools so turnover is high for the position of his personal caretaker. It is during the interview process for yet another caretaker that Philippe meets Driss.
Driss is a black man from the Parisian projects who has no intention of landing the job and only applies to provide proof he is looking for work so he can secure government assistance.
Intrigued by Driss’s blunt personality and complete indifference to his handicap, Philippe offers Driss the job along with the sly challenge that he won’t last six weeks.
With no other prospects, Driss accepts and moves in, reluctantly taking on the up-close and personal details of caring for a quadriplegic.
Driss’ presence immediately livens up the household, and while in a lesser movie this culture clash would be overplayed for big, over-the-top laughs, “The Intouchables” instead inserts the fast-talking Driss into a subtler version of the Little Orphan Annie story arc, as his streetwise sensibilities brighten every corner of Philippe’s life.
While the movie does get a bit sugary and sentimental at times, writers and directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano take an evenhanded approach and do their best to let the characters speak for themselves.
A movie like this lives and dies with its main characters and fortunately for us, the chemistry between Cluzet and Sy is formidable.
There is a great scene where a moderately-sized orchestra set has been brought in for Philippe’s birthday. After the concert, Philippe asks the musicians to run through some of the greatest pieces in classical music to convince Driss that he should broaden his musical tastes.
Driss counters by bringing in a stereo, putting on Earth, Wind, and Fire, and inspiring a mini-dance party among the guests. This joyful little scene encapsulates the tone of the entire movie as two guys who are at odds culturally genuinely enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company.
Plot-wise, not a whole lot happens in “The Intouchables” aside from some minor twists and turns to help hold your attention. It is simply a funny, heartwarming look at the genesis and development of a strong friendship. It kind of makes you wonder why there aren’t more movies like it.
“The Intouchables” is rated R for language and some drug use.