Reviewed by REGGIE WOLTZ
The Upside, a remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, which was inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, can’t help but feel a bit hackneyed at this point. (It’s actually the third remake of The Intouchables, following Indian and Argentinian versions.) It’s the kind of schmaltzy, feel-good movie Hollywood has been feeding audiences for decades, but sometimes they get it right. In the case of The Upside, the success is due almost entirely to the casting of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston as the odd couple at its center.
Hart is recent parolee Dell, who’s looking to turn his life around and find a way to provide for his young son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and ex (Aja Naomi King). When he enters a New York City high-rise and takes the elevator up to the penthouse, he thinks he’s there to see about a janitorial opening. It’s a job that, even in his desperate state, he doesn’t want, so his only aim is to collect a signature to prove to his parole officer that he’s actively seeking work.
As it turns out, the opening is for a “life auxiliary,” i.e. a live-in caregiver, for billionaire quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse (Cranston). After sitting through a parade of endlessly sunny and corny applicants, Philip, who’s still mourning his late wife and the life he was forced to abandon after a paragliding accident, offers the job to Dell. It doesn’t come from some altruistic drive to be the struggling man’s savior; it’s Philip’s act of personal rebellion, seizing what he believes is the only piece of agency he has left to hire the least qualified applicant — much to the dismay of his trusted assistant, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).
Dell bumbles his way through his early days on the job while gradually bonding with Philip and genuinely caring for him. It’s a reciprocal relationship, with Philip encouraging Dell to follow his dreams, whether they are to come up with an idea for a business startup or pursuing art, while Dell gives Philip the push he needs to find his way back out into the world again.
Directed by Neil Burger (Limitless) and written by Jon Hartmere, the amiable film has a few true laugh-out-loud moments, including a “that’s what she said” joke delivered by Cranston with impeccable comic timing and a cringe-worthy catheter-changing scene.
In his most dramatic role to date, Hart shows off some real acting chops instead of just mugging for the camera, while Cranston isn’t at all limited by Philip’s lack of movement; if anything, the stillness amplifies all of his emotions. On the downside, Kidman spends most of her time on screen doing little other than scowling at Hart, which seems like a waste of her talents.
Though it would have been more compelling had the filmmakers found a way to fit Yvonne into it more effectively, the upside is that the central relationship succeeds. Hart and Cranston play off each other nicely, and the movie works to the extent it does because they work so well together.
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