The Upside (2019)
The Upside (2019)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: January 11th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Neil Burger Actors: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman, Golshifteh Farahani, Julianna Margulies, Tate Donovan, Aja Naomi King

 


 

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o avoid a speeding ticket (along with potential penalties for red light running, reckless driving, and fleeing from police) while careening around in a sleek Ferrari, Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) pretends that his passenger – the quadriplegic billionaire author and business renovator Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) – is having a seizure. The ruse works, defusing what could have been a rather violent situation into a purely comedic one – something that becomes the framework for much of “The Upside.” Tragically, after arriving at the hospital, forcing the troublemaking duo to figure out their next move, the film shifts the timeline back to six months earlier – that dreaded, unforgivable narrative gimmick that plagues virtually every modern movie.

Dell needs a job, which means that, according to his parole officer, he must at least acquire three signatures from employers stating that he tried. He’s not actually interested in obtaining work, however, so his time is spent purposely failing the hiring processes. When he stumbles into the penthouse of a ritzy building, hoping to sign off on a janitor position that he has no intention of securing, he’s unexpectedly offered a life auxiliary job (a live-in carer) by Lacasse, who is amused by Dell’s bluntness and rudeness – quick-witted as it may be. Dell is the most unqualified of all the many candidates interviewed by business manager Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), but for Philip, it’s something of a game, providing a diversion to the mundanity of his extraordinarily restricted lifestyle.

“The Upside” creates a classic odd-couple premise, pitting poverty against wealth, and societal setbacks against limitless opportunities, while also pairing a younger black man with an older white one. Their differences couldn’t be greater, though they share degrees of loneliness. Dell is the less sympathetic of the two, demonstrating shortcomings in character and the managing of his responsibilities (shown primarily through his ex-girlfriend and their son), while also stealing from Lacasse in an early scene, which is problematically disregarded later on (Dell seems solely to blame for his woes, which decreases his underdog status). Philip, meanwhile, suffers from the loss of loved ones, which is far more crushing than his inability to move. But the psychological weightiness of both of their situations is largely ignored for the sake of lighthearted fun.

Some of the film is a fairy tale scenario, showing Dell’s experiences with sudden access to extreme extravagance – though the primary focus is on comedic interludes of caregiving, from sloppy feeding sessions to showering to hoisting into wheelchairs to handling catheters. There are even outright slapstick interruptions, as well as superb uses of opera and Aretha Franklin. From time to time, however, more poignant moments arise, involving flashbacks, romance, casual drives, and a birthday party. Yet uncomfortable scenes are generally cut short, leaning away from the heaviness of the subject matter to again embrace levity. Plus, as depression is battled and father/son issues are juggled, Philip and Dell end up learning how to be better people – and better friends.

It’s odd to utilize Hart in a chiefly dramatic role, but he’s convincing in the part; Cranston is likewise suitable as a man with everything yet nothing – that strange Hollywood conundrum of being able to buy whatever he desires, except for what truly matters. “The Upside” works best when it uses these personas to celebrate life, becoming something of the “Green Book” of disabled-person movies, in that it shies away from the severity of the physical obstacles in favor of a good time. And it’s not without plenty of entertainment value. It’s also based on a true story, though it certainly won’t gain any points for originality, since it’s one of several remakes of the 2011 film “The Intouchables,” from which “The Upside” borrows liberally for many of the most touching interactions.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10