REVIEW: “The Upside” (2019)

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“The Intouchables” was a funny yet sensitive 2011 French dramedy that became a mammoth box office hit. In France it still sits as the second highest grossing French film of all-time. It was a movie loaded with charm, with a great chemistry between its two leads, and an unforgettable score from Ludovico Einaudi. It would go on to spawn several international remakes including the new (and inevitable) American version titled “The Upside”.

Without question “The Upside” has had a rocky path to the big screen. It actually premiered back in 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Unfortunately it was one of several movies put aside and eventually sold off in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Now two years later it has a distributor and has found its way to theaters.

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The story centers around the unlikely friendship between Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), an extremely wealthy but deeply depressed quadriplegic and Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), a man just out on parole who desperately needs a job to stay out of prison. Phillip haphazardly hires Dell to be his live-in caretaker against the recommendation of his loyal but uptight assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).

These two polar opposites form a bond that goes beyond their economic and racial differences. Dell offers Phillip the chance to feel alive again while Phillip gives Dell an opportunity to earn back the trust of his estranged wife (Aja Naomi King) and son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). The movie sprinkles in several ‘fish out of water’ gags along the way, some of them landing better than others.

As you would expect Cranston is solid but it’s Hart who surprises. He has always been an actor I could only handle in small doses. Here he dials back his hyperactive brand of comedy and gives what is easily some of his best work. The problem is director Neil Burger and writer Jon Hartmere barely push these characters. Cranston and Hart are left with good chemistry but plenty of unexplored territory.

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Despite the nice performances, the central relationship in “The Upside” doesn’t quite have the same energy and charm we got with François Cluzet and Omar Sy. Also missing is any real tension between them. “The Intouchables” begins with a genuine disconnect which makes the journey towards respect and friendship more compelling. With one lone exception “The Upside” keeps everything pretty lukewarm, once again missing out on some good dramatic opportunities.

I don’t want to be too hard on the film. Much like the original it still has a good story to tell and uses some strong performances to tell it. While some have taken shots at the movie for its lack of angry modern-day racial commentary, I wonder if they have forgotten this is based on a true story. The film’s investment is in telling us about this crazy and unique friendship. In doing so it may not hit every note it should, but it still manages to be a worthwhile watch.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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17 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Upside” (2019)

  1. Well said. I too felt like whacking the movie with every single thing it does poorly or with immense amounts of cliché would be being a bit of a party-pooper. Glad you got along with Kevin Hart in this, he really does dial it back a lot. I think in general I am a bigger fan of his than you might be but I still would prefer to see more of this side of him than, say, Kevin Hart circa Ride Along. This was real character work, albeit diluted by a pretty pedestrian screenplay.

    • And what really surprised me about Kevin Hart was how natural his performance was. He wasn’t straining to be serious. There is definitely a comedic element to the role. But I like the serious side of him.

  2. Good review. I agree with you about this movie. There’s definitely a story to tell, but it felt pretty “meh”. The acting was good, but I didn’t care much about the characters and it all just felt like an unnecessary remake.

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