With a revised title,”The Intouchables,” and an R rating (quoi?), the most successful French comedy in history arrives stateside Friday, June 1.
While not receiving as much praise as I had hoped, a quick coup d’oeil of critiques concede its appeal, despite a few exceptions, who shall heretofore be referred to as les détesteurs (haters).
Last December, I told you about how Variety’s Paris-based critic, got his culottes in a bunch as he raced to be the first to say “Uncle Tom” as if he were playing “Marco Polo” and would earn credibility making the reference as a non-black person. The United States has long enjoyed world dominance in many arenas, especially concerning movies, and especially concerning mistreating black people. He actually used the words “performing monkey,” in his Dreyfusian defense. Keep that in mind when you watch the clip at the end of this post.
Despite his idiocy, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that there were indeed criticisms and accusations of exploiting racist stereotypes. The same post has a more credible voice that disagrees. It is a good and unintentional result that the debate has emerged. However, controversy is not why this movie has broken all box office records during a recession. It holds the title for most successful French film in France. The all-time box office champ is “Titanic.” This is what should really offend the sensibilities of les détesteurs.
Now, on the eve of its American release, Variety is in co-habitation for King of the Hill with his détesteur peer A.O. Scott of The New York Times. Their reviews were the only ones I read in full, thus will they unfairly serve my purpose as examples for all détesteurs , those film critics whose arrogant egos are allergic to any association with French popular entertainment, which is not cinéma. So it’s very gratifying and funny when Mr. Scott falls into the ultimate cliché pit in his review: he suggests an American remake, as if Harvey Weinstein had forgotten to buy the rights. He then offers his services as casting director, suggesting Tracy Morgan as “The Black Guy.” Again, keep this in mind when you watch the clip at the end of this post.
So, who’s the snob, now? Hein?
I’d like to thank les détesteurs for validating the purpose of this site. “High Concept” doesn’t automatically mean “this movie sucks,” it just seems that way because we’ve been served dreck. So we think looking to Europe, particularly France, led by les détesteurs and expecting to be served “high art” will replace those IQ points lost by domestic offerings. The real snobs are the ones who scoff at France revealing her quotidien side- you know, the masses that in actuality pay to see the high concept dreck that we serve them. Now, is that juste? Is that……American?
It was an Englishman that coined the phrase “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; we were not ashamed to flatter him or his country by imitating (appropriating) their language. I suggest we allow ourselves to be flattered at their appropriation of our culture. Refusing would only further confirm their suspicions of how uptight we are, beginning with the R rating.
The story concerns a stereotypical white guy: uptight, hyper-rich, insufferable man of privilege who happens to be a paraplegic (François Cluzet). As is normal in such a circumstance, he requires constant care. The movie begins with him interviewing prospects, note to les détesteurs: He’s does not attend a slave auction. Among the candidates is a stereotypical black guy: tall, muscular, bald, lives in the projects, in trouble with the law, ill at ease with the finer things in life (Omar Sy). Détesteurs: Did you notice that he’s really black, like “direct from Africa black?” Your casting’s way off.
If you can’t suss out the story from here, you probably haven’t seen “Trading Places,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “48 Hours,” etc. Those were all good, entertaining movies based on the same “cliché.” The critics’ logline would be “Black Man helps White Man become Better Person.”
However, I would bet that you won’t be able to predict everything- it is indeed a French movie so some ambiguity is required. For those with psychic cinematic gifts who do guess everything, so what? Predictability is not a bad thing; being predictably bad is a bad thing. The movies mentioned in the previous paragraph were all both predictable and enjoyable.
I’ve been promoting this movie like a pimp for two main reasons:
1. I want my site to be a huge success
2. I want that success to include changing America’s taste in movies, so that we do not allow our culture to be defined by thirteen year old anti-social boys with excesses of disposable income or Mormon erotica for teenagers.
Instead of calling Omar Sy’s character an “Uncle Tom” ensuring a Google legacy forever linking him with that slur, wouldn’t it be great if instead, this film launched him as an international superstar? It’s certainly time for a new face, especially a non-white, non-Anglo one. While I think Jean Dujardin will have a successful international career, I don’t think Jamel Debouzze or Gad Elmelah (two established comedic stars in France trying to cross over) have the same comic talent or charisma, and his English is better. Before I rest my case, let me remind you of the most recent Francophone superstar: Jean Claude Van Damme.
Finally, I would like to explain the cryptic title. François Cluzot has been a critically acclaimed actor for many years and hopefully is recognizable to French movie fans. Omar Sy became famous in France on sketch comedy TV shows, like his compatriot, first-ever-French Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin.
But, the real star of this movie is us, the U.S., the United States. Not our bi-racial kumbaya movies. Not our appropriated high concepts and clichés.
The element(s) that bonds these two men is music, a specific genre of music born in America from an American group that epitomizes that genre like no other and eradicates any overtones of racism.
Earth, Wind and Fire
The recent tragic deaths of two of Disco’s greatest artists, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, retrained my perspective. Anyone who was lucky enough to be alive when Disco dominated everything also remembers the death knells that chimed deafeningly as it was killing itself through overexposure. For a brief time, admitting you liked it was an invitation for ridicule.
Now, let me ask: have you ever, let alone recently, been to a wedding, a bar mitzvah, a club where anyone requested Quarterflash, The Alan Parsons Project, or The Little River Band? It was they who vanquished Disco.
As we all know, Disco didn’t die. Its call to dance has always been an affirmation of life.
So, for a life-affirming, feel good movie, it’s only right to credit Disco as the true star.
Now, watch the clip.