STX Films/Lantern Entertainment
Directed by Neil Burger
Produced by Todd Black/Jason Blumenthal/Steve Tisch
Screenplay by Jon Hartmere
Based on “The Intouchables”
Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh
Edited by Naomi Geraghty
Music by Rob Simonsen
There are some things in this country we never get tired of. Football. Junk food. Gossip about celebrities. Porn. Zombies. Netflix. Complaining about the weather. Watching Lucy Van Pelt yank that football away from Charlie Brown before he can kick it. We also seem to never tire of watching movies about uptight white folks who learn how to rediscover their joy of life through friendship with a black person. Don’t get me wrong. I liked THE UPSIDE for reasons I’ll get into once we get past the obligatory plot synopsis. I liked THE UPSIDE back when it was the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.” It’s just that this is a movie trope that is as dependably By The Numbers as a Romantic Comedy or a Slasher Movie. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you want a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and you do not require it to be anything more than that. I see movies the same way. Sometimes you just want a movie to be what it is and nothing more. That certainly applies to THE UPSIDE. If there is any real surprise in THE UPSIDE, it’s in the Kevin Hart performance. But as I said, we’ll get to that in a bit.
It’s safe to say that Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is a loser. An ex-con, he’s been beaten down and discouraged by life. His baby mama has kicked him out of their frightfully dilapidated apartment (and I’m being kind here, folks. That place is a real shithole) and his parole officer is thisclose to throwing his ass back in jail if doesn’t at least make some kind of attempt to show that he’s trying to get a job. Dell shows up for what he thinks is a job interview for a janitorial position but it’s actually a job as a Resident Life Assistance to billionaire businessman Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston). Due to a paragliding accident he’s now a quadriplegic. Despite his obvious unsuitability for the job and to the utter horror of Philip’s Executive Assistant Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman) Philip hires Dell.
Well, you can guess what comes next. The two men explore each other’s worlds. Philip exposes Dell to opera and modern art while Dell introduces Philip to soul music via Aretha Franklin and the joys of marijuana. Dell brings the spirit of spontaneous living to Philip and through Dell extending himself and learning how to take care of Philip, he finds it in himself to grow and mature and become a better father and provider for his son and baby mama.
Now if like me, you’ve seen “The Intouchables” you know how this story goes. But even if you haven’t, you’ve seen enough movies of this type that you’ll still know how this story goes. The best reason to go see THE UPSIDE is the performances. Kevin Hart is really good in what I believe to be his first dramatic role. He’s far from ready to play Stanley Kowalski on Broadway but he shows an incredible amount of restraint that both impressed and surprised me. If a typical Kevin Hart performance is cranked up to 11, here he’s down to 2 or 3. He doesn’t play his usual hyper maniacal man-child. Dell Scott is a man with deep, serious issues. He’s intelligent enough to realize that he should be and can be doing better with his life but he simply does not have the societal tools to do so. Hart does get to have some good comedic moments with Bryan Cranston, who himself knows more than a few things about comedy and the two of them have a nice chemistry together.
Cranston himself acquits himself extremely well since he only has his voice and facial expressions to work with and he acts better sitting absolutely still that most actors do while moving around. He has a scene with Hart where he quietly relates the story of the accident that crippled him and it’s one of the best in the movie. Nicole Kidman knows that the real romance/story of the movie is between the two men and she acts accordingly, staying comfortable in her supporting role lane. I saw her earlier this year in “Aquaman” and I can hardly believe she’s the same woman as it’s a total transformation. Kidman never seems to get mentioned in the same breath with Glenn Close and Meryl Streep and that’s a damn shame because she’s just as good.
The movie has a number of subplots involving a drug dealer that Dell used to work for trying to lure him back into the game and his possible designs on Dell’s son and Philip’s attempt to start a romantic relationship with a woman he has only communicated with by mail (Julianna Margulies). But these subplots are red herrings and I actually was pleased that they didn’t turn out the way I expected to them to turn out.
No, the only relationship that really matters is the one between Dell and Philip and that’s the one you want to see work itself out and how these two men confront their personal demons together, bond and fulfill each other’s lives. THE UPSIDE is an undemanding movie that is like the filmic equivalent of chicken soup; it’s familiar and comforting and once it’s finished you feel contented. Enjoy.