Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The Upside is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a French aristocrat and former director of the Pommery champagne house who was paralyzed in a paragliding accident in 1993. Philippe developed an unexpected, life-long friendship with a man named Abdel Sellou, a career criminal and Algerian immigrant before the two met. Their story had already been turned a movie in France called Les Intouchables, which became one of that country’s biggest box-office hits upon its release in 2011. Now their story is getting the American remake treatment with a talented cast that includes Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman.
Hart plays Dell, an ex-con who must prove to his parole officer that he is looking for work or he will be returned to jail. He is not interested in actually finding work, but needs the signatures of potential employers to prove that he has applied. After getting into the wrong elevator while looking for a janitorial position, he finds himself in the penthouse of a New York City high-rise where they are interviewing for a “life auxiliary,” essentially a live-in nurse for a wealthy, quadriplegic man named Phillip. Immediately impressed by Dell’s obvious lack of pity for his condition, Phillip offers him the job. Dell initially refuses, but after being given a day to think about it and realizing that it may be the only way for him to reestablish a relationship with his young son, Dell returns and accepts.
Dell quickly realizes that he had no idea what he was getting himself into with this job that includes feeding, transporting, and cleaning his new employer, as well as the uncomfortable—for him—task of replacing his catheter. Dell and Phillip have absolutely nothing in common, but it is not long before the pair begins to develop an unexpected friendship. Soon they are getting high, and racing around the streets of New York in Phillip’s Ferrari—as well as up and down hallways on the wheelchair that Dell has “souped up” for him. Through Phillip, Dell begins to appreciate some of the finer things in life and, more importantly, how he should treat those dearest to him. And Phillip, who had to deal with the loss of his mobility and the loss of his wife to cancer in quick succession, learns through Dell that he has so much living left to do.
Even if The Upside’s story about two opposing forces becoming the unlikeliest of friends was not based on a true story and a previously released film version, it would still feel incredibly familiar. Even audiences who have not seen this exact story told have probably seen many like it both on television and in the cinema. That unconscious familiarity, as well as the fact that the story goes pretty much exactly where you expect it to go at every turn, leaves the movie feeling somewhat stale, despite the best efforts of its talented cast.
Bryan Cranston proves that he can be a compelling actor even without the use of anything below his neck and he has a pretty good rapport with Kevin Hart. This feels like the kind of performance that might have received more of an Oscar push had the movie not gotten caught in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and delayed until more than a year after it initially premiered at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. Nicole Kidman lends solid support as Phillip’s business executive, a role that feels incredibly underwritten for such a major movie star.
Even with the award-winning talents of Cranston and Kidman, the movie certainly feels like a Kevin Hart movie from beginning to end. It is actually a rather good showcase for the actor, who gets to do a lot of his usual comic shtick, while also showing off a more sensitive side as the movie progresses. Unfortunately, the timing of the film’s release could not be worse for the actor, who has been making a lot of headlines recently for his lack of sensitivity in real life. Hart also cannot quite match the magic that Omar Sy brought to role in the French original. One need only to search on YouTube for “Intouchables dance scene” to find a spark that this remake can’t quite replicate.
The Upside does have its fair share of charm, though, especially in the chemistry between Hart and Cranston. There are plenty of good laughs packed into a genuinely inspirational story to make it worth your while. And if you do enjoy it, then I highly recommend seeking out the French original as well.
The Upside opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.