STX FILMS (2019)
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Golshifteh Farahani
What a positive title.
The Upside is Hollywood’s version of 2011 French flick The Intouchables and, whilst I haven’t been lucky enough to have seen the original, I hear that this version is astonishingly similar…as in identical. The deliciously named Neil Burger helms here and teams up the unlikely duo of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston in the lead roles – and Nicole Kidman supporting makes this all the better. A dramedy with intriguing ingredients, indeed,
The movie follows Phillip (Cranston), a quadriplegic billionaire who hires ex-convict Dell (Hart) to be his live-in carer, despite the fact that he is horrendously unqualified – a fact that Philip’s stoic assistant Yvonne (Kidman) won’t let him forget easily. Together, the pair from opposite ends of the spectrum go on a journey of discovery, acceptance, and have a bag load of laughs along the way. The Upside surprised me in the fact that it was more drama than comedy (similar to Instant Family) though the manipulation and sentimentality are plastered on thick here. As a narrative, it’s as predictable and cliché-ridden as they come, however, if done right, that doesn’t always have to be detrimental – and The Upside gets it right for a decent chunk of the movie. The chemistry between Hart and Cranston is excellent, the two work extremely well together and provide every highlight the movie offers – for Hart, this is his best performance and shows some handy range too. In Cranston’s case, his acting is completely facial, and he carries the strength, vulnerability, sadness, and vitality the role demands marvellously. Nicole Kidman, too, is very good in a smaller, yet important, role.
When the movie movies away from its two unlikely lads, The Upside suffers somewhat. The humour and weightier moments they bring makes the movie and when things turn to a more serious lens without them, it’s not all that successful – the third act being the major culprit. However, certain moments in the movie carry a surprising depth to them and others had me laughing out loud (see: opera house scene) and these moments occurred far more consistently than the…less-successful aspects. Whilst The Upside is undoubtedly feelgood, it’s clear that the subtext is decidedly regressive – rich white man employs a desperate black man to lift their souls, and together they become better people because they accept each other – and in today’s climate, it feels a decade or two out of date.
Whilst The Upside is extremely safe in its narrative direction, that doesn’t prevent it from still being extremely entertaining – thanks to the sharp chemistry of Hart and Cranston. The nagging feeling of its antiquated undertones hovers over the movie, but when it’s good, it’s rather good indeed.
January 22nd 2019