The Upside (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Kevin Hart’s first semi-dramatic role, pairs him with Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston and Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, in the first buzzworthy movie of 2019.
Fans of the original film, 2011/12 French film The Intouchables, will likely take a keen interest in how this remake compares to the original.
An easy enough watch, The Upside will play nice and easy on cable re-runs in the months and years to come.
Thematically and in terms of tone, The Upside has no idea when to laugh or downshift towards drama. The movie is kind of a mess.
Hard to make a case to watch this, when The Intouchables is such a popular and beloved source film.
Finished in 2017, The Upside became lost in the shuffle with Harvey Weinstein’s scandal, the dissolution of The Weinstein Company, and an escalating amount of controversy regarding casting, how the film portrays issues of race and disability, along with Kevin Hart’s recent Oscar hosting/social media dust-up. Avoid theaters, watch this at home for free.
Though the film may have grossed a little over $10 million in its North American release, 2012 French film The Intouchables was a global phenomenon, grossing well in excess of $426 million worldwide and becoming one of the highest-grossing non-English language films ever. With receipts rolling in, The Weinstein Company secured the rights to create an English-language remake of the film, nabbing Paul Feig as director, and names like Colin Firth, Idris Elba, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Chastain, and Chris Rock all attached to the project at one time or another.
Feig would depart the project in 2013, leaving behind a screenplay adaptation. Other efforts to cast the film were unsuccessful, until Kevin Hart agreed to play the role of Dell, a man on parole who lucks his way into taking care of a quadriplegic multi-millionaire writer and financial expert. After Bryan Cranston agreed to play Phillip Lacasse, the wheelchair-bound main character, Weinstein was dissolved, a production company bought their library, and STX Entertainment picked up distribution rights to The Upside.
They also scrapped the Feig script and commissioned another one before going into production in 2017.
Since The Upside was first announced, a Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, and Argentinian remake has since been released, leaving the American version to serve as a fifth (?!) cinematic remake of the original film.
And very quickly, The Upside feels like a movie that got passed through a lot of hands, was scrutinized by a lot of eyes, and then thrown back with a shrug, with notes reading, “I don’t know, just do something with it…”
Hart plays Dell, unemployed and on parole with a criminal record, inexplicably hired by Phillip to be his new “life auxiliary” and provide live-in care for him 24 hours a day. The pay is steep, and Dell thinks the job will be no big deal.
Of course, he fails to know the first thing about taking care of someone, chair-bound and infirm, in need of near around-the-clock assistance. This proves frustrating to Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), a long-life friend of Phillip’s, who serves as his business manager and sees Phillip pass over numerous potential, qualified hires to hire Dell.
Directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, The Illusionist) and written by first-time writer Jon Hartmere, The Upside car-crashes together comedy and drama with very little nuance. In a couple of scenes, Hart is cracking jokes and providing levity to story. In other moments, he is a deadbeat dad to his neglected son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and ex Latrice (Aja Naomi King), delinquent on child support and letting his family down continuously.
As their relationship grows, Dell and Phillip learn more about one another, and a bond forms between the two. Phillip is often soft-spoken, but assertive, only able to move his head and neck. At times, Hartmere’s script never seems to quite understand why these two men have been put together. Everything is surface-level, reactions to fish-out-of-water moments and the like. This of course offers some queasy exchanges between Phillip and Dell, which call to mind hints of superiority, white saviors, and the notion that privilege and wealth can kind of fix everything.
That said, Hart finds some nice chemistry with Cranston when moments play light and comedic, playing well alongside Kidman’s tightly wound and protective guardian. However, he seems to lack the chops dramatically to fully capture who Dell is. Hushed voices and stern looks seem to be the go-to for the actor, and though he generates many laughs along the way, he seems lost in trying to provide depth and meaning to his character.
Cranston gives a strong performance here, but because we are careening from comedy to drama and back again, The Upside just feels long, laborious, and meandering, leaving the Oscar-nominated actor’s attention to detail and character lost in the shuffle.
Instead, it’s goofy birthday parties, joyriding through the streets of New York City, bickering, joking, and bickering again, with one completely unnecessary blind date scene that plays so cold and callous, it adds just another level of confusion as to what the point of all of this happens to be.
Everyone involved will be fine, but the sooner we all move on from this, the better.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Keith Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Genevieve Angelson, Golshifteh Farahani, Tate Donovan, Julianna Margulies.
Director: Neil Burger
Written by: Jon Hartmere
Adapted from the screenplay “The Intouchables”, written by Éric Toledano and Oliver Nakache
Release Date: January 11 , 2019