The Upside, 2019.
Directed by Neil Burger.
Starring Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Julianna Margulies and Tate Donovan.
An ex-con unwittingly finds himself employed as the live-in carer for a quadriplegic businessman.
People probably get a little bit too angry about English language remakes of foreign films. It’s certainly true that these movies seldom reach the heights of their predecessors and equally true that the demand for them is an indictment of audiences who simply can’t be bothered to read subtitles. But the original films are still there and, if anything, English language remakes can increase awareness of them.
That’s not to say that French film The Intouchables needed a signal boost. It was a huge hit in its native country and did reasonable business elsewhere in the world. With that in mind, it was always inevitable that it would get an English remake and, after a rather rickety path to the big screen, The Upside has now got out of the gate – and it’s fine.
The premise is one that invites clichés, and Neil Burger’s film dutifully tumbles headlong into them at almost every possible opportunity. Kevin Hart’s Dell is an ex-con who, via a selection of misunderstandings and bizarre events, is hired by Bryan Cranston’s quadriplegic businessman Phillip Lacasse to work as his live-in carer. Phillip’s business associate (Nicole Kidman) takes an immediate dislike to Dell, not least because his first act is to fall asleep on his opulent new bed in Phillip’s home.
That the film works at all is testament to the two lead performances. Cranston was born to play grouchy, middle-aged men and he brings acerbic, arrogant snark to his role, while Kevin Hart shows a considerably more dramatic side to his abilities. Initial flashes of the sort of humour that have characterised the worst of his films – I shivered with revulsion when the thought of Get Hard momentarily entered my brain – eventually give way to something more heartfelt, peppered with impressive flashes of dark comedy.
With that heart, though, comes trite schmaltz. Some of the dialogue is absolutely laughable – from saccharine soundbites to seemingly unintentional dad jokes – and you certainly don’t need to have seen the French original to be able to predict every beat of the plot. It spends much of its third act meandering in search of an ending, only to eventually just give up and roll the credits.
But the main goal of The Upside is to work as a heart-warming odd couple comedy, and it just about achieves that thanks to the chemistry between the two leads. There’s not much to the story beneath the surface, but some of the darker comedy touches work very well indeed and it’s tough not to have a tear in your eye when Cranston turns on his magic.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.