The Upside Review
PG-13: For suggestive content and drug use
STX Films, Lantern Entertainment, Escape Artists
2 Hrs and 5 Minutes
Dir: Neil Burger | Writer: Jon Hartmere
Cast: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, Aja Naomi King, Tate Donovan
Release Date: January 11th 2019
"The Upside" chronicles the unexpected friendship between Phillip Lacasse (Cranston), a Park Avenue billionaire left paralyzed after a hang-gliding accident, and convicted felon Dell (Hart), recently released from prison and in need of a job and a fresh start. From worlds apart, Phillip and Dell form an unlikely bond, bridging their differences and gaining invaluable wisdom in the process, giving each man a renewed sense of passion for all of life’s possibilities.
Don’t you love it when America takes a beloved foreign film and makes it… American? For the most part, “The Upside” abides by some of the same narrative beats as the French film it was based on (“The Intouchables”) right down to its comedic introduction. Every time a thought of how sitcom-ish some of the humor is, as it takes tragedy and infuses it with comedy, just remember some of that comedy is present in “The Intouchables.”
For the first time in a long time, Kevin Hart displays his acting range and doesn’t go full-on Kevin Hart. He’s not loud and screaming every line of dialogue, even for comedic purposes, but is more grounded and human. It’s not his long-awaited drama role that you hoped for, but it is his most charming performance to date. Of course Bryan Cranston is endlessly incredible no matter what he stars in, even if the project is painful…
… he still manages to be incredible and this is another one of those performances. As Phillip, Cranston (to the surprise of no one) knows how to balance comedy and drama, so whenever there is a silly comedic sequence, there is a scene of emotional heartbreak waiting around the corner with him at the center of it all. While the weak script prevents the two from reaching their full potential, Hart and Cranston share ample scenes where they display strong chemistry. There are moments where their personalities reverse. A comedic highlight that comes to mind is a scene where Dell has to change Phillip’s catheter because, for once, Hart has to play the straight man while Cranston is in control delivering one liners and taking glee over Hart’s disgust.
Thirty minutes into “The Upside” I felt a huge disdain towards the screenplay, especially with how it sets up Kevin Hart’s character, Dell.
The synopsis is focused on this studious quadriplegic who hires this ghetto convict who was recently released from prison. Dell is presented as your typical African-American stereotype who is:
Recently released from prison
A deadbeat dad
We don’t act like this anymore! We know how to code switch now and Dell is not a good depiction, especially for a narrative like this. Every negative stereotype that Black people were presented as back in the day is present here and, for a film released in 2019, it doesn’t feel authentic. As I said, it is similar to Omar Sy’s character in the original film, but there could’ve been some modernized liberties taken with this remake. The reason why “Green Book” worked as A MOVIE (more so than the terrible controversies surrounding the film post release) was the presentation of Tony and Shirley where Shirley was the studious Black man while Tony was a walking Italian stereotype, so there was a lot of substance with that dynamic.
Similar to “Green Book”, a lot of the humor roots from the differences between the two’s vernacular. While there are plenty of entertaining and hilarious comedic sequences (I can’t believe I’m saying this) but “The Upside” doesn’t have the written strength of “Green Book” in terms of comedy and narrative. While it bears a heavy resemblance to its source material, “The Upside” lacks the genuine moments that made it moving. It doesn’t have the quiet character moments that it should, and when they do, it’s too sentimental. Instead of the real life footage of the real duo appear onscreen like they did in the original, a chyron (what?) appears on screen saying, “And the two remained friends till this day.” The narrative is entirely predictable, but the chemistry and the performances of the two leads keeps it elevated. What I am truly curious about is how the other screenplay penned for this would’ve looked.
Let me get a bit nerdy with you. When The W*inst*in Company acquired the rights to do an American remake of “The Intouchables”, there were a lot of names attached during development and one notable name for director was Paul Feig who penned a finished draft of the script. There were two choices in terms of deciding which adapted screenplay to use: the one written by Jon Hartmere, which we have here, or a script written by Paul Feig.
What was the Feig script like? It was probably well-written, even in terms of the comedy aspects. Hart’s Dell is written as your typical black stereotype and Cranston… well, he’s flawless in the way his character is written. The film doesn’t even dive into race relations and focuses on the typical “magical mystical negro” trope. While I was entertained and gave in to some scenes, I’m not a fan of the return of this trope.
Scenes escalate too fast without any true progression to its drama. This is the type of movie that will be a crowd pleaser and it succeeds at that. By the second act, when Dell stops acting ghetto and the film finds its balance of tone, I was swept up by the movie’s charm and enjoyed it for its entertainment value. The only way to truly enjoy this is to walk in with the mindset of watching a Kevin Hart movie. This will do well for black audiences because Hart is a name draw and so is Cranston. It focuses more on Hart and delivers for his audience. As the film goes on, the scenes they share becomes a tad bit stronger as they do put a smile on your face.
The major positive aspect regarding “The Upside” lies in the charm between Hart and Cranston who share onscreen chemistry and display impressionable range. The downside of this American remake is that it’s way too familiar in its narrative that it doesn’t have enough substance in its weak script, which keeps it from being something special.
Rating: 2.5/5 | 56%
Super Scene: Catheter