The Upside

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Upside
dir Neil Burger
scr Jon Hartmere
prd Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch
with Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Golshifteh Farahani, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Julianna Margulies, Tate Donovan, Suzanne Savoy, Genevieve Angelson, Mark Kochanowicz, Jennifer Butler
release US/UK 11.Jan.19
18/US 1h58

kidman farahani margulies

See also:
Intouchables (2011)

Cranston and Hart
This Hollywood remake of the 2011 French film Intouchables is as slick as expected, playing on the oversized personalities of its stars to generate some spiky chemistry. Based on a true story, it's also an engaging tale of an unlikely friendship. So even if this version feels artificial, compared to the original, it still conveys a strong message about compassion and understanding, as well as the importance of escaping political correctness.
In Manhattan, quadriplegic millionaire Phillip (Cranston) is looking for a new carer, and his assistant Yvonne (Kidman) is interviewing a string of earnest candidates when the awkward lowlife Dell (Hart) barges in by accident. Impressed by his honesty and humour, Phillip hires him on the spot even though Dell knows nothing about taking care of someone so disabled. But he learns quickly, and soon begins to help Phillip see a reason to live. Meanwhile, Phillip helps Dell build some self-confidence to take care of his estranged wife (King) and teen son (Winston).
Director Burger softens every edge in Hartmere's script, leaving the film safe and unsurprising. The oddest thing is how the film presents both Phillip and Dell so unflatteringly: both are extremely unlikeable for much of the running time. There are glimpses of humour, and a nice sense of the connection between them as they embark on some mini-adventures. But both are deeply self-absorbed. And their transformation into caring friends feels a little too sudden to be believable, even if it's entertaining.

Hart and Cranston add abrasive edges to their usual images, adding a dark edge to their usual comical crankiness. Feeling entitled, Dell casually lies and steals, while Phillip indulges in bitter cynicism. The worst moment is when Hart hideously overplays Dell's homophobia. Each has alienated everyone from their lives (only Phillip's paid staff sticks around). So only Kidman has time to invest something substantial into her supporting character. She has a couple of terrific moments.

All of this feels both strangely contrived and narratively manipulative, but Hart and Cranston pull it off in the enjoyably slushy plot turns. Mercifully, Hartmere and Burger resist turning the film into something soaringly inspirational, focussing instead on the more personal shifts in the lives of these men. Big plot points mean none of this is terribly subtle, and the various storyline resolutions rely on things that are far out of reach of the average viewer. So in the end it's amiable and warm, but never very resonant.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 13.Nov.18

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall