Humor and Heart
The Upside is a remake of the 2011 French film called The Intouchables which was about the real life story of a wealthy quadriplegic and the man hired to take care of him. Despite its lazy storytelling and corny sentimentality, that film went on to bring in upwards of $300 million in Europe and became one of the most successful in French history. With that kind of success, it should surprise no one that Hollywood would try to funny it up, re-brand with a leading cast, and otherwise put the American spin on it. But what's surprising is how funny, poignant, and ingratiating this new version is. In fact, Neil Burgerís The Upside comes across as a better film.
The Upside tells an odd couple buddy story ultimately about bridging our divisions and understanding the impact people can have on each othersí lives. It stars Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as Phillip Lacasse, a quadriplegic millionaire who lost his wife to cancer and was paralyzed in an accident. He has since holed himself up in his lavish Park Avenue suite with Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) tending to his daily business matters.
But he needs someone to take care of him. You know, someone to do things like change the bed sheets, feed and bathe him, lift him in and out of his wheelchair, and someone with the strength, fortitude, and boldness of character to change his urinary catheter. And luck would have it that ex-con and neíer-do-well Dell Scott (Kevin Hart, Night School) needs a job.
You guessed it, Phillip hires Dell in spite of his lack of experience and in spite of the fact that Dell was only looking to get a job search signature for his parole officer. You also guessed that the two eventually hit it off and become best of buds. But the stuff that happens in between makes this such a delightfully charming and oftentimes hilarious little film.
Efficiently directed with a thorough understanding of the brilliance happening between Cranston and Hart on screen, Burger wisely stands back and lets the two actors work their magic. And the shared chemistry between the two plays out in a way that is downright gut-busting at times yet always emotionally satisfying. And thatís what is often so difficult to pull off in a film like this -- equal doses of humor and heart without overdoing either. Burger nails it.
His role seems quite the departure for Hart and gives the audience an opportunity to see his more dramatic chops. Thatís not to say he isnít funny, however. He often has us doubled over in laughter with his signature slapstick sight gags, facial contortions, and machine-gun banter. But he unquestionably turns in his deepest, most distinct performance to date. Cranston, strapped with having to pull off a worthy performance with only facial expressions, appears also up to the challenge, as is Kidman whose Yvonne never quite trusts Dellís intentions, but realizes she must do as her boss demands.
And then thereís the magical way newcomer Jon Hartmereís script makes us sympathize with a couple of miserable cads who have estranged themselves from friends and family to the point of near isolation. Dellís baby mama -- who has custody of their teenaged son -- wants nothing to do with him while Phillipís moods range wildly from anger to depression to apathy and indifference. Yet, as the film hops briskly along, we slowly begin to sympathize with both of them.
Dell and Phillipís relationship takes a trajectory familiar to most buddy comedies; they initially canít stand one another, eventually come to an understanding, have a falling out, then realize that they both rely equally on each other. As different as their life struggles are, their ability to learn from one another ultimately builds and strengthens a true and incredibly one-of-a-kind friendship.
The themes explored in The Upside are certainly nothing new, and neither is Burgerís film particularly stylish, uniquely structured, or earth-shattering in its singularity. Yet for a remake of a French film that has been run through the Hollywood filmmaking machine that we all know has a unique ability to really screw things up, this one certainly could have been much, much worse.
(Released by STX Entertainment and rated ďPG-13Ē for suggestive content and drug use.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.