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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Plenty to Like About "The Upside"

Jan 11, 2019 02:36PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston in The Upside - © 2019 STX Entertainment

The Upside (STX Entertainment)

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use.

Starring Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Genevieve Angelson, Aja Naomi King, Julianna Margulies, Rachel Alana Handler, Tate Donovan, Mac Brandt, Amara Karan, Omi Vaidya, Golshifteh Farahani, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Michael Quinlan.

Written by Jon Hartmere, based on "The Intouchables" by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano.

Directed by Neil Burger.



I past reviews, I’ve made considerable hay over the use of the term “Based on a True” story, usually on display in the opening scenes of many films. My chagrin is fueled by the fact that most of these “true” stories are vacant of actual facts and history, or in other words, “mostly BS.” Its ugly step-cousin is “Inspired by Real Events,” which is code for “complete BS.” As you read this review of The Upside (which is “based on” a true story), please don’t judge me too harshly for my knitpickery. Many “based on” films are very good, and aside from the less-than-authentic claims of the source material, you’ll find a pleasing or compelling narrative (case in point, my love for Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody). The problem with The Upside is that the authenticity of its source material is second generation BS since the movie is based on a 2011 French film The Intouchables (which I liked) but was also “based on” real people.

Bryan Cranston plays Phillipe, a quadriplegic billionaire in need of a new caregiver. Enter Dell (Kevin Hart), a parolee looking for signatures to prove he’s trying to find employment. Despite the lack of trust from Phillipe’s executive assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), Dell is hired, with Phillipe recognizing his honest charm, and lack of sympathy. Despite some rough beginnings, the pair strikes up a great friendship, with Dell giving Phillipe a new lease on living, and vice-versa. Things go south when Dell tries to help Phillipe with his love life, and the two men go their separate ways. They are reunited when Yvonne leaves and Phillipe’s staff call on Dell to rescue him from a downward spiral into depression and hopelessness.

The biggest upside for The Upside is that Kevin Hart is not annoying in the leading role and actually plays a likable character with more depth than you’ve ever seen from the comic who usually relies on funny faces and screaming for laughs. Cranston is his usual reliable self, giving his character just right level of sarcasm and development you’d expect. Nicole Kidman also melds well into the cast in a supporting role. The script, while sometimes trite or at the very least clichéd has its moments as well.

Some may take issue with the way The Upside glosses over some of the deeper issues associated with race, socioeconomics, wealth, and disability, but it, after all, a comedy meant to entertain more than inspire. It should be noted that The Upside also mirrors The Intouchables nearly shot for shot, so if you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen the other (subtitles notwithstanding).

As for that “based on” stuff, while it is true that the events and characters presented in the movie stray from accuracy, there are elements of truth to both film adaptations. One of the larger differences between the real-life people and the ones seen in The Upside and its French predecessor is the ethnicity of the real “Dell” (Abdel Sellou, who is an Algerian Muslim). You can debate the cultural differences and similarities between and African-American caregiver to a white billionaire to an Arabic caregiver to a French aristocrat all you like, but both kinds of relationships mean entirely different things when adapted to unfamiliar cultures. In other words, such items can get lost in translation.   

All quibbling aside, if you were to present The Upside as an original narrative stripped of its source material, you’d still have an enjoyable movie about friendship that transcends race, culture and socioeconomic status, while reinforcing the truth that people may not come from equal circumstances but deep inside, we are all people with similar needs for love and friendship. These simple truths are not lost in The Upside, and there’s no downside to that. 

The Upside Trailer