Directed by Neil Burger
Starring: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use
2 hrs., 6 min.
The Upside has had more lives than a boxful of cats. Based on the French film The Intouchables, it was first put on the American drawing board back in 2011. Then the carousel began.
The film changed directors, changed actors, changed writers, even changed distribution companies. Premiering in Toronto in 2017, it got shelved because of sexual abuse allegations brought against its original producer, Harvey Weinstein.
As a result, the film suffers, particularly in the writing. It’s as predictable as rush hour traffic and as lightheaded as the paragliders featured in the ending.
Still, there’s something to be said for chemistry among actors. If anything good can come from watching The Upside, it’s the leads: Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart create enough appeal to overlook most of the film’s deficiencies.
Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) is a wealthy quadriplegic whose difficult temperament tests the patience of his administrative assistant, Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman), as well as a rotating crew of life auxiliaries who simply can’t manage his boredom and depression.
Dell Scott is an ex-con who is struggling to find a job and repair the damage he has caused to his family — wife Latrice (Aja Naomi King) and son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). His parole officer is on his case to show that he’s looking for work. He needs to go to employers and get signatures to verify that he’s gone on job interviews. Dell doesn’t care about a job, but the signatures are a must. While his attitude is bad, he’s determined to hand in the paperwork and stay out of jail.
Responding to a name on his list, he shows up to Phillip’s home unaware of the job title, the responsibilities, or even the term “life auxiliary.” Scott just needs Phillip’s John Hancock. Phillip, intrigued by Scott’s pitbull attitude and raw honesty, offers him the job. It becomes a friendship in which you wonder, who is working for whom?
Director Neil Burger doesn’t have to do much to keep this story rolling. Given the talents of Cranston, Hart and Kidman, the camera and screen speak for themselves. Just point and shoot.
Cranston and Hart engage in understated comedic shtick that is funny and even touching: changing a catheter, dealing with a surprise birthday party, enjoying hookers together, smoking weed in the park. They’re two faces of a single coin, one side stamped Mozart and the other Aretha.
Using his comedic patter only when necessary, Hart plays down his normal high-energy overkill and faithfully takes on the role of a bitter ex-con. Cranston skillfully holds our attention with his eyes, face and the tone of his voice.
What’s problematic in The Upside is that if you dare look too deep into the story, it’s not hard to guess what’s coming or how it will play out. The letter writing and dinner date, intended as a soft touch, just make the film squishy, and Kidman’s role as Phillip’s assistant, while touching, simply screams the movie’s eventual outcome.
There is also a credibility issue, in that the film leads you to believe that this story took place in America, whereas it happened in France. Thus, in the closing title, Phillip and Dell do not remain friends in true life. They’re fictional characters. The movie is fictional. Let’s leave it at that.
Whatever the deficiencies of The Upside, it manages to maintain the chemistry between Phillip and Dell throughout and provide enough entertainment to make it worthy of watching. If you like movies that are lighthearted and have a breezy ending, you’ll probably enjoy The Upside.
The ending, which involves a paragliding excursion, seems fitting, as the camera, pinned on Dell and Phillip, soars over the mountains. Are there are problems in The Upside? Yes, but what the heck? If this film promises to make you happy, then, by all means, take a seat and go flying.