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The Upside review: Feel good until you think about it

I felt good watching The Upside but it only took a few moments’ reflection to question myself.

In 2012 I saw the U.S. release of the French hit The Intouchables. I didn’t expect the American remake The Upside to be as good, and it’s not, but it was enough to bring back the positive feelings of Intouchables and remind me to watch the original again.

If you don’t want to read subtitles, Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston speak English in The Upside.

Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is an ex-con who feels he’s too good to work fast food or data entry. So he goes to job interviews just to get the manager to sign off on his sheet for his parole office. He does turn down drug dealing, so that’s something.

When he stumbles into an interview to be quadriplegic Phillip Lacosse (Bryan Cranston)’s caretaker, he gets more than a signature. He gets a job and a lifelong friend. You can see why the true story appealed to Hollywood.

Kevin Hart after losing the Oscar gig. What, too soon?

Now, I get why Phillip is so bored he’ll take a chance on a totally inexperienced novice. He may even be suicidal. 

Dell is not charming or smart. He’s dismissive, rude, insulting and entitled. Phillip is not seeing the good that society has overlooked. He wants the screw up.

Dell (Kevin Hart) gets some on the job training with Phillip (Bryan Cranston) in The Upside.

Phillip and Dell inspire each other and make each other laugh. Dell pushes Phillip to appreciate what he still has, and Phillip nurtures Dell’s more constructive qualities.

Boy, writing that last paragraph makes it feel really trite, and maybe it is. Maybe even two hours isn’t much more nuance than the two sentences I just wrote. And that’s before we address a rich white guy teaching a poor black ex-con how to be a better person, or an able bodied man telling a quadriplegic it’s not so bad. 

Don’t you hate it when you go to the theater and some people just won’t stop talking?

It feels good natured while I’m watching it though. Laughing at the absurdity of life is important. And not giving up is important too.

It did make me wonder how the other 99% live with paralysis. Phillip is rich and can afford the fanciest chairs and voice command devices. He hires three people besides Dell. 

Nicole Kidman is in The Upside too as Phillip (Bryan Cranston)’s executive who doesn’t want to hire Dell (Kevin Hart).

Most people living with various conditions don’t have all those resources. Most of them probably have to fight their insurance company for basic necessities. 

The Upside only hints at bigger issues facing Phillip and Dell. One neighbor (Tate Donovan) questions letting an ex-con live and work in their upscale building. Unforgiving privileged elite is a really big issue that could have been very fruitful to explore in additional scenes.

This ain’t no Ride Along!

Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece becomes an overt metaphor as one character retells the story. It’s one thing to use a metaphor, but at least come up with your own.

I do admire Hart playing an unlikeable character who needs to change. Your mileage may vary how likable you find him in Think Like a Man or Ride Along movies, but assuming that, The Upside begins with Hart playing against type. 

Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) lives his life a quarter mile at a time.

There is a scene that becomes homophobic when Dell has to change Phillip’s catheter. It’s not even about handling the urine. It’s that Dell has to touch a penis. He won’t even say the word penis. 

That may be entirely in the script, it may be verbatim from The Intouchables. I don’t remember from six years ago, but it would seem unfortunately timed given his Oscar hosting/old tweets scandal, and if it were an ad lib by Hart, man oh man…

Bryan Cranston shows the nuances of suffering through Dell (Kevin Hart)’s brash feeding.

Cranston is giving a full bodied performance with just his face. He’s showing the exhaustion of feeding and pushing his electronic chair. He’s finding subtle reactions.

Dell does get Phillip high twice. That’s an easy laugh, but not as easy as the slapstick with Dell in the high tech German shower. 

Why isn’t Jesse Pinkman available to be my caretaker?

Predictability is probably the least of The Upside’s questionable areas. What buddy movie doesn’t have the scene where they break up? The Upside has Chekov’s Huckleberry Finn book, set up so early and referenced constantly that you know exactly how it will play out. 

The underlying spirit of The Intouchables is still there, but it’s Americanized, so you know what that means. They just made The Intouchables more superficial. 

The Upside is in theaters Friday.

Fred Topel has been a journalist since 1999. Over the... read more

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