I first read about this film when I came across an article saying that this was the fourth highest grossing movie of 2012 globally. I checked it and it was true. Tucked in between two big Hollywood hits was this French movie:
So I read the synopsis and it didn’t impress me: a rich middle-aged tetraplegic hires a younger uncouth man from the ghetto as his caretaker, and they both learn from each other and form an unlikely friendship. This sounded like a very hackneyed premise for such a celebrated movie (this is already the second highest grossing French movie ever). And it turns out I was right — this movie is safe, bland and boring.
It wasn’t really the fault of the two lead actors — Omar Sy and François Cluzet (who has a very uncanny resemblance with Dustin Hoffman) gave what I felt were believable if not commendable performances. But the roles really weren’t too demanding. Cluzet, who played the role of the wheelchair-strapped millionaire Phillipe, brought an air of refinement and sophistication to the character, but it was burdened by a lot of formulaic quirks: of course he’s into art, opera and classical music. Isn’t that what all rich men like? And all Sy’s character Driss had to do was to mock and make fun at the pretentiousness of high-brow culture. Isn’t that what all poor guys do? Again, this isn’t a hard story to pull off — we’ve all seen the clash of classes before and it’s easy, unchallenging comedy.
Where it gets even more problematic is in the cultural exchange. Philippe exposes Driss to the elegance of high culture and educates him with the cosmopolitanism of his world. Driss shares with Philippe more primal pleasures, teaching him how to smoke cigarettes, getting him high on pot and helping him get “laid” (“the ears are an erogenous zone…”). There is something very Driving Miss Daisy about all of this, about the old white guy educating the ill-bred black fellow about the finer things in life and him offering his friendship in return. It felt patronizing and condescending back then, and it still does now.
There are touching moments here and there. I mean given the premise how can there not be? This probably partially explains why this became such a crowdpleaser. It has all the trappings of a good-natured buddy movie, and maybe that’s why it felt wholly unoriginal and predictable.