Believe me - I wanted to like this movie. I really did.
There was even an article about it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. On the front page of the main news section - not in the entertainment section. Intouchables, or The Untouchables, a French film being released in the U.S, had been a huge hit - reportedly bigger than Avatar or The Avengers - in France and had won critics’ raves and a slew of awards. This was big news.
What was even bigger news was that the movie is about a severely disabled man. What’s more, it’s a comedy. It’s a comedy about a man, Phillipe, who is immobile and uses a wheelchair and who hires a “bad man,” Dris, an immigrant from Senegal with a rap sheet and whose mother has kicked him out, as an attendant, reasoning that such a fellow won’t pity him. Based on a true story, the film is about how the two became lifelong friends.
I had to see this. This was going to be a realistic, unsentimental and not sappy depiction of life with a disability. At long last! And it was a blockbuster! I rushed out on its first weekend of release to an outrageously expensive matinee showing about an hour away.
As I said, I wanted to like it, and I tried to, but the more I tried to like it, the more I didn’t like it. In short, the movie misses a wonderful opportunity. There is a line between funny and silly, and, while having a subject matter that is rich with unique, provocative, perhaps challenging humor, the movie too often slips over the line into the silly. When it could have been a thought-provoking, stinging “Odd Couple,” it ends up being a slick, screwball “Odd Couple.” Perhaps most upsetting for a French film, it is more of an empty Hollywood summer comedy than a rich, insightful European comedy.
There is a scene in which Dris balks at putting support stockings on Phillipe, saying that a man shouldn’t do such a thing with another man. This is good, meaty - yes, challenging - funny stuff. Too bad we couldn’t see Dris dealing with a catheter! Far more typical, though, was the wince-inducing scene in which the black, poor Dris shows Phillipe’s white, very rich family how to “get down” at a party. (Part of my problem with the film might be that Phillipe, unlike the disabled people I know, is quite wealthy.)
The scene in which Dris, driving Phillipe, careens down the road and Phillips fakes a seizure so that Dris won’t get a ticket when stopped by the police is funny (and not that far-fetched!), but it shouldn’t have been the opening. It was too over-the-top and set a frantic tone for the film. My favorite part of the film, perhaps the saving grace for me, was seeing the real-life Phillipe and Dris during the end credits.
Here are a few better bets for movie-going (although I tend to believe that, in general, going to the movies is a waste between May and September):
“Men in Black 3" - actually quite smart and funny.
“Moonrise Kingdom” - a sweet, if curious, hoot if you can stand director Wes Anderson’s increasingly obsessive hyper-stylization.
“Rock of Ages” - just a lot of summery fun, sweet, sticky, with loads of ear and eye candy, and who knew that REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” is a coming-out anthem!