Thursday, June 21, 2012

Missing an opportunity

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!

1 comment:

  1. Ah, that's too bad. Christine and i were chatting before seeing Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and i asked her of what type movies she wanted more. When the trailer for the Untouchables rolled, she said that one.

    Thank you for your writing, not just this entry, but them all.