There is lots to laugh at in Intouchables, the smash hit comedy that has taken France and the rest of Europe by storm.

Driss (Omar Sy, who won best actor at the Césars, over The Artist’s Jean Dujardin) is a strapping black man from the Parisian banlieue. Fresh out of jail, he applies for a job as a personal caregiver to a rich white paraplegic man, Philippe (François Cluzet), solely in order to fulfill requirements for his welfare payments. He doesn’t actually think he’ll get the gig. But, tired of the barrage of deadly dull applicants, Philippe decides to give Driss a shot, and before long the young man goes from living in the slums to having his own presidential suite-style bedroom in Philippe’s mansion.

The catch? He has to wait on Philippe hand and foot. Much of the humour revolves around Driss’s discomfort with the less glamorous aspects of his work; his unfamiliarity with the lifestyles of the rich and refined; and his irrepressibly gregarious demeanour, dismantling traditional notions of hierarchy and the stuffy pretension that comes with money.

Driss gets Philippe to let him drive them around in his sports car rather than the more suitable minivan, and encourages him to pursue a relationship with a female pen pal with whom he has corresponded but never met. Philippe, meanwhile, gives his employee – who is fast becoming his best buddy – a sense of culture, including an appreciation for opera, classical music and modern art. The chemistry between Sy and Cluzet makes the formula work.

At the heart of this film is the friendship between two very different men from radically different backgrounds. Based on a true story, the premise has solid roots. Writer-directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano navigate the material skilfully, adding just enough real-life seriousness to anchor their narrative, without ever losing their sense of humour.

- T'Cha Dunlevy, Montreal Gazette


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