Directed by: Neil Burger
Premise: A remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables. A wealthy quadriplegic (Bryan Cranston) hires a down on his luck ex-con (Kevin Hart) to be his caretaker. They help each other get their lives together.
What Works: The Upside is an affable drama. The film has been billed as a comedy and while it has funny moments it is tilted toward the drama. The story finds two very different men at the end of their ropes; Phillip, played by Bryan Cranston, is a wealthy quadriplegic who has lost his wife. Few of his possessions give him any pleasure and he is about ready to give up on life. Dell, played by Kevin Hart, is a parolee who is estranged from his wife and son and is desperate to find work and stability. These two men wander into each other’s lives and Cranston and Hart are likable together. Cranston is well established as both a comic and dramatic actor but Hart really impresses with his serious moments. The scenes of Dell struggling to establish himself as a father feel authentic and put us on his side. The Upside also does an excellent job of portraying a character with a physical disability. The filmmakers demonstrate an awareness of the challenges of life in a wheelchair and the way the general public tends to look upon the disabled with dehumanizing pity. The tone of this story is managed quite well and the film includes humor but also some real moments of heartache and the comedy and drama lean on one another instead of cancelling each other out. The Upside is also an example of a remake that actually improves upon the original film. This version includes some different story developments that increase the drama. Although it’s an uplifting story, The Upside isn’t disingenuously optimistic. It retains some heartache and disappointment that preserves the film’s credibility.
What Doesn’t: The plotting of The Upside is a bit disconnected. One scene doesn’t necessarily lead logically to the next and some sequences could be rearranged without making much difference to the plot. Nicole Kidman is underused as Phillip’s business affairs manager. Kidman’s character is established as very close to Phillip and committed to his life and work but she arbitrarily disappears from the story. It is narratively inconsistent to just dismiss her. Like the original film, The Upside has a thorny subtext. This is a film about a rich white man who essentially hires a lower class black servant. The Upside has unmistakable elements of the so-called “magical negro” stereotype. The filmmakers soften those elements by creating nuanced and complex characters but the framework remains nonetheless.
Bottom Line: The Upside is a likeable mix of drama and comedy. Despite a few narrative problems, this movie tells its story well and is anchored by impressive performances by Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart.
Episode: #735 (January 27, 2019)