Film Review – The Upside (2019)
It seems like Kevin Hart is the controversial figure of the moment. As we all know, ignorant old tweets (that have been apologized for ad nauseam) are the most important issue facing America today. Bar none. Well, second only to who will host the Oscars. It’s not like the U.S. government is shut down, or dangerous people (I’m looking at you, R. Kelly) are roaming the streets, or anything. Right?
In case you missed it, that first part was dripping in sarcasm. I’ve encountered far too many people calling for the boycott of The Upside because of this Hart/Oscars debacle, and I’ve grown very tired of it. Exhausted, even. Judging by the box office numbers, and the nearly-sold out crowd at my showing (including that front row by the screen that’s usually empty), the boycott isn’t a thing. The Upside, however, as our own Nick Kush pointed out, “is a thing.”
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed by: Neil Burger
Written by: Jon Hartmere (based on Les Intouchables, by Éric Toledano, and Oliver Nakache)
Phillip Lacasse (Cranston), is a super-wealthy quadriplegic man in need of physical assistance. Dell Scott (Hart) is an ex-convict, in need of… pretty much everything else. Much to the chagrin of right-hand-woman Yvonne Pendleton (Kidman), Phil prefers Dell over the multitude of qualified (on paper) applicants for his care provider position. The two embark on a working relationship that brings them more than expected. Blend heart-warming and dramatic moments, toss in some buddy comedy hijinks, and you have The Upside.
The Upside is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, and Abdel Sellou. Both men wrote memoirs, and there have been three previous movies based on their story. France’s 2011 hit The Intouchables, was followed by Inseparables from Argentina, and Oopiri from India (both in 2016). According to this article, there is actually a lot more truth in The Upside than one might expect. Naturally, spoilers abound in said article, so you may want to read it after seeing the movie.
The most controversial change between real life, and the movies, are the character’s ethnic and religious backgrounds. Abdel (changed to Dell in The Upside), is, in actuality, an Algerian Muslim. He is not black. Philippe is a white aristocrat from France, and is a devout Christian (there is even a chapel on his property). Neither aspect is true of self-made American businessman Phillip in The Upside. Both Pozzo di Borgo, and Sellou, seem to be okay with the alterations. Of course, there will always be people who feel otherwise.
The actors have great chemistry, and it makes the interactions believable. For instance, one can sense Phil and Yvonne have known each other for years, before it is mentioned. She doesn’t seem like a random person tasked with helping Phil find a carer, she is clearly part of his world.
Likewise, Dell’s interactions with his son Anthony (Winston), and ex-wife Latrice (King) reflect their history quite well. There is a wall in place to avoid being hurt by someone who has let you down in the past. It plays out quite realistically. For the most part.
It almost goes without saying that the chemistry between Cranston and Hart is off the charts. In fact, they would be wise to star in another film (or five) together. It’s almost like that “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie. You wouldn’t think the combination would work so well, but it just… does.
What I Didn’t Like As Much
I know what you’re thinking, “is this a critique, or a praise-fest?” Well, here comes the nitpick section. I’m going to be somewhat vague, here, to avoid giving away too much. However, I will tell you this movie does something that bugs me about Hollywood versions of true stories. Basically, I can’t stand it when a character is added out of thin air, or when a relationship is altered considerably. That’s about all I have to say about that.
Also, sometimes jokes go on too long, and the funny dies. Or a touching moment goes on too long, and enters cheesy territory. It would be easy to assume I blame Hart for this, as he’s been criticized for overacting in the past. In this case, though, it’s more like an editing problem. These moments could have easily been spared with just a little trim.
Even more jarring are moments that feel completely out of place. It’s hard to explain without too much detail, but it is quite distracting (and detracting). It’s almost like changing the channel for a moment, watching a minute or two of a different movie, then switching back. There are shifts in tone and content that feel awkward.
Oh, hey, speaking of awkward…
This One Time, Bryan Cranston Talked to Me
I met Bryan Cranston in 2003, at a reception following a charity basketball game. Cranston was standing in a room full of famous teens and 20-somethings (and their fans), looking somewhat uncomfortable. I was a 20-something there to meet said famous people, and I was very uncomfortable.
As it happened, Cranston and I ended up in the same off-to-the-side area. He smiled, and said, “hi.” I said something generic, like, “hi, good game,” for lack of anything better (his team had won). He thanked me in a very humble fashion. I can’t remember what else was said… probably a comment on the rainy, un-Santa Monica-like weather. I never asked for a photo. Selfishly, I would say I regret that. However, he seemed to appreciate being treated like a regular Joe. Meanwhile, I appreciated the fact that he had reached out to the shy young woman trying to hide under a nonexistent rock.
Which Brings Us Back To…
While watching The Upside, it kind of reminded me of that encounter. Cranston’s character, Phil doesn’t want to be treated differently, or patronized. This is stated outright in the trailer for the French version of this story, The Intouchables. A friend (counterpart to the Tate Donovan character, I imagine) comments that “street people” have no pity. Philippe remarks that was the whole point of hiring him: the lack of pity.
Our American Phil (Cranston) seems to be bored out of his mind interviewing candidates for the “life auxiliary” position, but Dell (Hart) immediately sparks his interest. He’s the polar opposite of the pretentious and condescending applicants Phil and Yvonne (Kidman) have been fielding all day. That scares Yvonne, but enlivens Phil. Feeling as though Dell needs him, and the job, seems to give Phil a sense of purpose. He is taking someone under his wing, versus just being… looked after. It’s a far more symbiotic situation than he would’ve had with another applicant.
Dell doesn’t treat Phil much differently than anyone else. He is as blunt and irreverent as he would be talking to anyone, and that is refreshing. Both to those in the film, and those watching it.
In my opinion, there is very little wrong with this movie. There are some over-the-top moments, in both funny and “warm” scenes, but that is to be expected in a movie with this subject matter. Hollywood seems to think a “feel-good movie” has to be in-your-face to get the message across. The story is well-told, the chemistry between the characters/cast is great, the movie is just… enjoyable. Sometimes, that’s really all a movie needs to be.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on The Upside? Comment down below!
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