Despite the best efforts of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, The Upside squanders so much potential during a film that is otherwise a laugh riot.
Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston)–based on Phillippe Pozzo Di Borgo–is a quadriplegic billionaire as a result of a paragliding accident. Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is an ex-convict in need of a job. In need of a signature to take to his parole officer, Dell’s attitude impresses Phillip to the point that he gets the job. If it were up to chief-of-staff Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), somebody else would have gotten the job. Here’s a guy who can barely take care of himself. How are we to expect that he will be able to care for somebody else? But yet somehow, they start to get along. It becomes less of a professional relationship and more of a relationship between friends.
Somehow, Phillip and Dell have a way of making each other better. Neither one appear to be a fan of Phillip’s downstairs art-collecting neighbor, Carter (Tate Donovan). This pays off rather late in the film. When you’re a wealthy billionaire, you’re able to take advantage of other millionaires and billionaires.
How wealthy is Phillip, you ask? Not enough to purchase the New York Yankees but the money is there if he wanted to purchase the New York Mets. We learn this while Dell’s estranged son, Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), is in the back seat as Dell gets to drive one of Phillip’s many cars. Phillip owns so many cars that Jay Leno’s garage would be jealous.
John Hartmere’s script remakes French film Les Intouchables in English for American audiences. Is an American remake necessary? Probably not. This is a film that plays heavily into stereotypes.
Bryan Cranston is one of America’s greatest actors. He has to be able to sell this performance more so on facial gestures and emotional reactions than anything else. For the most part, he does this. It’s through performances like Cranston’s that we see just how much work goes into a performance like this. My thoughts on the script not withstanding, Cranston does what he does best. A year before The Upside premiered at TIFF in 2017, another Bryan Cranston vehicle screened at TIFF when Robin Swicord’s Wakefield held its international premiere. The film didn’t get released until 2017 but Cranston was award-worthy in that performance. I’d encourage you to check it out.
Comedy is subjective and while I admit to laughing quite a bit during this film, these weren’t the happy type of laughs. There is a considerable amount of displeasure that came along with these laughs. Here we have Kevin Hart recently apologizing (or as best of an apology that he can) repeatedly for homophobic jokes and yet, his character plays a care-giver that can’t even say the word penis or look at one without wanting to throw up. I get that. Some people are more uncomfortable than others when it comes to the male genitalia. This scene takes place as Phillip is having his catheter changed by physical therapist Maggie (Golshifteh Faharani).
This is a film that goes well passed its expiration. When I start looking at my watch, it means I’m starting to think, How is this film not over yet?!? This film runs over two hours long but could very be a good half hour shorter than the running time. Comedies work best when they run 90-100 minutes. Anything north of two hours for a comedy better have a good reason. A scene were Dell is getting downed in a high-tech smart shower could easily have been cut.
The Upside may be able to provide laughs but at what costs is hard to say.
DIRECTOR: Neil Burger
SCREENWRITER: Jon Hartmere
CAST: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Golshifteh Faharani, Aja Naomi King, Tate Donovan, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Genevieve Angelson, Suzanne Savoy, with Julianna Margulies, and Nicole Kidman