The Upside is directed by Neil Burger. The film stars Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, and Nicole Kidman. It is based on the French film The Intouchables. The movie premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, but is only now getting a wider theatrical release.
Phillip Lacasse is a wealthy entrepreneur turned quadriplegic following an accident, who seeks a new caretaker. Parolee Dell Scott, long behind in child support payments, ends up in Lacasse’s place of residence during interviews, and gets the position despite his obvious lack of experience in the field. While the two and the manager of Lacasse’s affairs are initially at odds with one another, the two eventually bond despite their own respective hardships and past lives.
I’m not familiar with the original French film on which this story was based, nor the true story which inspired it. Put simply, The Upside gives us two great leads with superb chemistry, both of whom have their share of moments to shine. At times, the film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, as was certainly evident in the screening I attended. Unfortunately, despite its brilliant comedic moments, the movie fares far less well with its cliched dramatic moments and failure to develop its supporting cast and subplots.
As far as the positives go, there’s no denying Kevin Hart is a funny man, and he gets more than a few chances to let his comedic side go nuts here despite the more dramatic shades of the tale; it’s a far better showcase of his abilities than last year’s dreadful Night School. The chemistry he has with Bryan Cranston is surprisingly good, and seeing these two playing off of each other, despite coming from different worlds and pasts, makes for some moments which are outright hilarious. Cranston shows surprisingly wide range here as well.
Sadly, despite the two leads and the most hilarious moments of the movie, almost everything else suffers. At two hours, it’s way too long. Attempts at drama feel like things we’ve seen in a million other movies, and come off as shoddy. Hart’s character is a parolee estranged from his wife and son who understandably hold a grudge… yet this subplot never gets the proper emphasis or development. Something this important in the character’s life can’t feel like an afterthought, yet it does here. Even Nicole Kidman doesn’t get much to do except act irate towards Hart’s character.
The struggle to balance drama and comedy makes for something horribly tonally inconsistent. At times, this film made me laugh so hard it hurt. At others, it was an over-the-top tearjerker. Give me a Kevin Hart comedy or a dramatic story about two men bonding in a difficult time in their lives. Don’t give me an uneven compromise which fails to achieve either. The biggest offender of the film is its third act which takes a narrative-friendly turn for the worst, with an all-too-convenient and predictable solution and outcome.
I definitely liked The Upside, but I wanted to love it. Sadly, despite the comedic moments featuring Kevin Hart at his best and a surprisingly strong performance from the always-entertaining Bryan Cranston, too little else about it works. When The Upside hits home formats, it will make for decent weekend rental material, but don’t rush to the theater for it.
Rating: Two stars out of four (though I’m tempted to bump the rating up half a star due to the chemistry and performances of the leads).
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