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FILM

The Intouchables

A paralyzed millionaire and a poor ex-con buddy up in a weeper that's already taken Europe by storm

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The Intouchables

4 Stars
(R)

The Intouchables is huge in France. Like Avengers huge. It's one of the most popular movies of all time overseas, and it was nominated for a bunch of awards when it was released in foreign markets last year. And it's easy to see why: The movie is funny, heartwarming and brings together two guys from completely different racial, economic and social backgrounds – longstanding qualities of films referred to as “crowd pleasers.”

These culture- and language-crossing characteristics make The Intouchables an easy film to like. So do the performances, especially Omar Sy as an ex-con barely looking for a job to keep his unemployment benefits coming. It can get too cute at times, but at least you don't have to slog through any of the usual issues or hurdles found in most interracial relationship movies.

After spending some time in prison for a robbery, Senegalese-born ghetto dweller Driss (played by Sy) heads to the filthy-rich portion of Paris to get his unemployment forms signed by Philippe (François Cluzet), a quadriplegic millionaire confined to a wheelchair following an accident and in search of someone to take care of him. Much to his surprise and disappointment, Driss is hired as Philippe's full-time caretaker. Suddenly, Driss, the poor, pot-smoking old-school R&B fan finds himself in a brand-new world filled with the very best of everything.

The pair's mutual attraction is immediate. Driss takes his new job seriously, but not too seriously – he encourages Philippe to live a little and not wallow in self-pity, an attitude Philippe clearly appreciates since everyone else either tiptoes around his disability or feels sorry for him. Driss is just what Philippe needs to kick-start his life again, although the latter's family, friends and assistants are wary of the dark-skinned stranger.

Coming from different parts of the city that might as well be different countries, Driss and Philippe are indeed an odd couple. But they hit it off from the start, giving each other shit at their first meeting. Driss mocks Philippe's tastes in classical music and fine art; Philippe delights in having Driss dress him like “a chick.” But as Driss starts to genuinely care for Philippe, they become close friends, introducing one another to their respective worlds. They go to the opera, they get high and they call up some questionable girls for massages.

The Intouchables, based on a true story, is essentially a buddy pic with one difference: We actually get to see why these two seemingly incompatible men would get along and, more importantly, we come to understand how they become such close friends.

Even when the movie occasionally goes soft (just wait until a Hollywood studio gets its hands on the rights for a remake), writers and directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano ground the story in the very real pain gnawing at both characters – their family and love lives are fractured, torn and complicated. By the time the opening scene works its way back into the final stretch of the movie, prepare to be moved. It's the perfect end to a perfect relationship.

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