This 2011 French megahit from writer/director duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is a crowd pleaser in every sense of the world. The second most popular film in France ever, and the 62nd best film of all time according to the ever-faithful IMDB, this films tells a nice story of two likeable people, one who is a quadriplegic and one who is a mild criminal, who come together through necessity and form a bond that leaves both of them better off afterwards. There are some laughs, a few tears, precious little conflict, a nicely framed narrative, and, oh yes, it’s based on true events.
It would be easy to be damning about this film, but to heap scorn upon it would feel like being angry at a baby -totally unjustified. The fact of the matter is, this is not a complicated film, almost shallow, and one that delivers the audience everything it wants, which for a casual film-goer is fine, but for people accustomed to something deeper, it might be jarring or overly saccharine. It remains a fun, light-hearted affair that cannot be faulted for good intentions.
The plot is a relatively simple one. Driss, played excellently in an amusing performance by Omar Sy, is a recently released petty thief who just wants a signature from a job interview so he can claim his dole. Francois Cluzet is also superb as Phillipe, who is a quadriplegic, and who takes an immediate shine to Driss and his no-nonsense way of doing things (in his own words, ‘Driss doesn’t pity’), and instead of simply giving Driss a signature for his benefits, gives him the job.
From the outset, then, we’re already in the land of the slightly incredulous. This may be ‘based on true events’, but I found the immediate hiring of Driss improbable. He is painted to be a crass, vulgar, even rude person, who might also be hiding a charming core, but that faÃ§ade is not the kind of thing any normal person would want to hire. This was only a small niggle, but one imagines that Driss has been ‘written up’ for the film. Frankly, I don’t think anyone would tolerate someone as insensitive as Driss can be in this film.
The problem I have with reviewing this film is this: I enjoyed it, a lot, immensely, but in describing it I find myself describing a number of flaws which, frankly, I didn’t take much notice of while I was watching it. And this is why the film is light entertainment and not a masterpiece. To watch it is to subject yourself to a lovely, sweet experience; to analyse it is to uncover a plethora of flaws.
The biggest criticism I have of this film, however, is the woefully underwritten part of Phillipe’s daughter Elisa, who is in no more than five scenes, yet we’re meant to believe that she is a ‘tramp’ who needs ‘sorting out’, and who then has a drug overdose, which is never mentioned again. This jarred for me even while I was watching it. As the film closed, I found myself wondering if she was dead, not really embracing the happy ending (which was, of course, always going to be happy).
The supporting actors are all convincing as Phillipe’s closest associates, especially Anne Le Ny as Yvonne. The camerawork is nice and unfussy, without entering into TV Movie of the Week territory, and the script does a nice job of mining comedy from situations such as a Hitler moustache and emptying a colostomy bag.
I enjoyed this film. The two hours sailed by with nary a glance at the clock, and I took great delight in watching the bond of Phillipe and Driss develop. But as the credits rose and as I started to think about it, I realised just how far and how deeply this film eschewed depth and settled for a level one reading of the characters. If the film hadn’t been so earnest in its attempts for audience satisfaction, I would have almost considered that a shame.