The Upside is a new dramedy directed by Neil Burger, a remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables. Inspired by a true story, the movie follows an unemployed ex-con (Kevin Hart) who is hired by a wealthy quadriplegic (Bryan Cranston) to be his aide. This is one of the last remnants of The Weinstein Company, having debuted at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival before being shelved due to the scandal. It is finally making its way to theaters with a new distributor, STX Entertainment.
This is one of the funniest movies to come out in quite a while. Although the humor may not be of the highest complexity, the film manages to elicit gut-busting laughs at many occasions. Although some of the funniest gags (including one involving a catheter — perhaps the most hilarious moment in the movie), are hinted at in the trailers, these scenes have more to offer in the final product. There are also multiple funny “fish out of water” jokes, in which the protagonist’s lack of knowledge of high culture, like modern art or opera, provides for some humorous hijinks.
The film balances these hysterically funny scenes with scenes that are filled with genuine heart. The story of these characters is likely to connect with audiences quite well. The experiences of Dell (Hart) are the more empathetic of the two characters and will speak to anyone who has experienced a divorce on either end — parent or child. Phillip (Cranston) will gain audience sympathy immediately for his condition but grows to be more over the course of the story.
However, the movie tends to rely on cliches a bit too much. One obvious trope is that the film starts at the end of the story before going back to the beginning — “six months earlier”. When are writers going to learn that this trope doesn’t work? It is rarely enticing, frequently anticlimactic, and almost always frustrating. The structure of the plot follows the formula, pretty much to the beat. To a certain extent, this can be expected — the original didn’t re-invent the wheel either — but it’s predictable nonetheless.
There were also quite a few moments in the movie that were over-the-top, almost to the point of feeling manipulative. For example, there is a scene in which Dell talks about his family history and how his father welcomed him home when they ended up in jail together. Admittedly, this is an integral part of his character, but the dialogue could have been written much more effectively.
The chemistry between the two actors is perhaps the most effective part of this film. Hart and Cranston both give great performances. This is the most interesting role Hart has done to date. Some scenes rely on his usual loud-mouthed schtick, but the script also gives him room to show a greater range. Cranston also does a good job, although seeing a non-disabled actor playing a disabled character is quite frustrating.
The weakest area of the movie is its execution. The focus of the filmmakers seemed to be on the script and the actors rather than the visuals and overall look of the film. The cinematography isn’t very good at all. It is shaky and there is very little attention to framing. The fact that it was shot digitally is very obvious and distracting. The production design is too generic. The penthouse easily could have been made into a memorable set, but it wasn’t.
Overall, The Upside was a surprisingly entertaining film. It isn’t without its flaws, but it builds off of the heartwarming and funny script and the chemistry between the two leads to provide a fun time at the movies.
The Upside opens in theaters on January 11.