The Upside, a remake of the French film The Intouchables, is a typical drama in which the central characters fall easily into archetypes and archetypal emotions. Bryan Cranston is a wealthy businessman paralyzed from the neck down. He pours over his grief and refuses to form true connections out of fear. Kevin Hart plays an ex-convict nearing the end of his parole who has a tendency to destroy many of his relationships. Nicole Kidman is a reserved and business-focused executive hired by Cranston’s character to manage his affairs and finances after his accident. Most of the characters and their experiences follow the same formulaic path, as does the entire script. Despite this, the film is genuinely enjoyable and quite endearing. Hart is hired as Cranston’s life auxiliary by an unhappy Kidman and the adventures they embark on as a mismatched pair bring true joy and happiness to both their lives along with financial success to Hart’s character. The Upside is just as clichéd and contrived as you might think, but somehow it works. It’s harmless enough to allow viewers to enjoy themselves for the duration of its 123-minute run time.
I’m certainly not a fan of Hart. I don’t tend to find him funny and I definitely have problems with his attitude as well as his reluctance to apologize for his blatant homophobia, but that’s beside the point. Surprisingly, he was mostly tolerable (and maybe even enjoyable, I’ll begrudgingly admit) in this film. His performance is one of his best and likely his least obnoxious. Cranston and Kidman’s performances seem to tone down and wrangle Hart’s loud humor, bringing focus back to the seriousness of the story.
The story itself is obviously compelling, especially because we know it’s real, but the mediocre script turns it into something much more sappy and maudlin. This also seems like a good time to point out the lack of opportunities for disabled actors and the glorified able-bodied actors who usually portray disabled people. I won’t act as though I have any authority on the subject as an able-bodied person, but it’s something I’ve seen blow up on social media recently in light of Cranston’s comments on it. People have also discussed issues with certain tropes surrounding disabled people in film, something I wholeheartedly agree with. The plot is almost always about a disabled person who hates their life and an able-bodied person teaches them to love and live again. It’s exhausting to see disabled people placed into the same few offensive, worn out plots lines and also quite frustrating to see able-bodied actors so praised for portraying a disabled person while actual disabled actors are ignored. For a more in-depth look into this specific problem, I would recommend looking into Twitter or other social media for the thoughts of those who are actually qualified to comment on the specifics.
The Upside is an average film and is spectacular in no particular regard, but if you’re looking for a feel-good comedy in which you can predict all of the plot points with ease, you’ve found the right film. For most viewers, The Upside will probably provide the exact sort of catharsis they’re searching for. The film also serves as a reminder that Americans should to stop remaking wonderful foreign films. The American versions never quite live up to the success of the originals.
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.