By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act December 5, 2011 at 12:32PM
It hasn't arrived in the USA yet, but the film that's currently lighting France's box office on fire, and attracting heaps of praise and acclaim (co-star Omar Cy is being hailed by some in France as a blossoming black cinema icon who might be on track to win the French equivalent of the Oscar for Best Actor next February) has been seen and reviewed by some stateside outlets; also, one of our readers who lives in Europe recently saw the film, and she shared her thoughts with me via email, giving me the OK to post here.
I'm talking about the new French comedy titled Intouchables (Untouchables) which Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein Company have acquired both stateside distribution rights to the original film, AND English-language remake rights.
The film, which is said to be based on a funny and moving true story, centers on the relationship between a wealthy white aristocrat who becomes a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident, and the young, poor "street-tough" black man he hires to take care of him.
Omar Sy stars as our "street-tough" dude, Driss, while François Cluzet (one of France's movie stars), plays Philippe the rich quadriplegic.
I've already expressed my reservations with regards to the film, even though I haven't seen it yet; but based on what I've learned about the original story thus far, there's nothing particular fresh about the basic buddy/comedy concept, and one can't help but instantly see some familiar character archetypes here, specifically where the black man is concerned. And I'm wondering what the Weinstein Company sees in it, and how they might translate it in an American remake if Harvey will stick to the original story and characters - the right white quadriplegic and the poor, street smart, black tough guy - or revamp the entire idea).
And, unfortunately, the reviews I've read thus far, one from Variety, one from The Hollywood Reporter, and a third from an S&A reader, don't do much to change my expectations of the film.
First, the bad, from Variety:
Though never known for their subtlety, French co-helmers/scripters Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have never delivered a film as offensive as “Untouchable,” which flings about the kind of Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens. The Weinstein Co., which has bought remake rights, will need to commission a massive rewrite to make palatable this cringe-worthy comedy about a rich, white quadriplegic hiring a black man from the projects to be his caretaker, exposing him to “culture” while learning to loosen up. Sadly, this claptrap will do boffo Euro biz.
From The Hollywood Reporter, which wasn't as harsh:
The King's Speech meets Driving Miss Daisy in Untouchables, a loosely based-on-fact French tale of a quadriplegic white millionaire given a new lease of life by his uncouth black caretaker. Corny, calculating and commercial... Driss's characterization veers perilously close to caricature at certain junctures, most notably when he displays his energetic dance-moves to liven up Philippe's stuffy birthday party. (The real Driss, we eventually discover, is Arab rather than black.) The racial angle is often clumsily dramatized, as when Elisa makes an implausibly stupid remark about how things are done "in your country." The chap may have been born in Senegal, but is unmistakeably a home-grown son of the banlieues.
The Hollywood Reporter review does praise the performances of both leads.
And finally, from an S&A reader, which is the most positive of the 3:
Well, you'll hate it. It's a Magical Negro Driving Monsieur Daisy film. I know that you would role your eyes at the dance scene set to Earth Wind and Fire's Boogie Wonderland. That said, I did enjoy it even though seeing it made me realize how much my French sucks. My husband, whom I dragged from his sick bed and who did not know that he was going to see a movie in French, enjoyed it too. He thought it was the best of French humor: chock full of every stereotype, but done in an unforced way. (His words, not mine.)... Omar Sy was quite engaging. His smile lit up the screen. I'm wondering if he'll be able to cross the pond like Djimoun Hounsou. I was trying to imagine who would play his role in the American version. Will Smith springs to mind, but he's too old and he already played Bagger Vance... In fact, all of the performances were good. I would have liked to have seen more about Driss' homelife. This is where our French failed us. We couldn't figure out what exactly was going on with his brother at the end. That was the fault of our lousy French, not the film maker's. Still, it was enjoyable, but I can't wait to read how your readers rip it apart!... Yeah, it was a feel-good movie. Was it on your site or Deadline that I read that Intouchables was the Titanic of France, i.e., people were seeing it repeatedly? The theater yesterday was about 60% full, but my friends who saw it last week said that it was packed and the line for the next showing was around the corner. around the corner.
So there ya have it... like I said, I'm not at all encouraged.
A stateside release is expected, since the Weinsteins picked up distribution rights to the film; though I don't know when that will happen, or if it will happen. They also purchased remake rights, so it could be a case of them buying the distribution rights to the film so that no one else can release it in the USA, with the main goal being to produce a remake of it, and release that as an *original* American work.
I'm looking at that Variety review and sighing at the part where the writer says the Weinsteins would have to commission a "massive rewrite" to make the "cringe-worthy" comedy palatable to stateside audiences. I certainly hope so!
By the way, the dance scene mentioned in 2 of the above reviews has surfaced in a clip on YouTube, which I came across yesterday - the one in which Omar Cy's Driss character dances to Earth Wind & Fire's Booogie Wonderland. Watch it below; and underneath that, check out the film's trailer if you haven't yet:
Here's the new clip:
And here's the first full-length trailer below, which is in French, without subtitles. Sorry... though I think the images tell the tale: