The Upside is yet another “based on a true–life story” film and also a remake of a French movie Intouchables (2011), which drew on the same material. It is about the relationship between two very different men.
Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is a billionaire living in a luxurious Park Avenue apartment, who is in deep and cynical depression as a result of a paragliding accident, which killed his wife and left him a paraplegic. Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) lives in grotty housing with his girlfriend, is on parole just out of jail and no one will give him a job. When Phillip advertises for a specialist carer to take care of his many physical needs, the job centre sends Dell along in error. Dell has no hope or even desire to get the job. He just needs his form signed to say he’s been there, so he can collect his unemployment benefit. But Phillip, perhaps hoping that Dell will accidentally kill him through ineptitude, insists on hiring him, to the horror of his business manager Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).
The outcome is predictable. After a bumpy start, they become best buddies and learn life lessons from each other. So what the film relies on is some good comic cum poignant situations and skilled performances. The script and the actors deliver.
Cranston came to fame in early middle age after his success in television’s Breaking Bad in 2008 by which time he was a veteran of his craft. He is a consummate performer and now a box office draw. After seeing him on the London stage in Network last year I’d go see him read the telephone directory. Hart is accomplished across the comedy spectrum as a writer and producer as well as a performer. And they make a great double act, ringing every laugh, smile and tear out of the material. There has been some criticism of Cranston for taking a role which some quarters claim should have gone to a quadriplegic actor. An unrealistic wish, I fear, as without an actor with Cranston’s drawing power, I doubt the film would have got made.
Kidman has little to do but lend a bit of support to the double act and demonstrate how keen she is these days to disappear physically into a character. Wait till you see her contrasting appearances in Destroyer and Boy Erased, both coming soon.
Without such good performances, this film would have been just another made to formula cliché about unlikely buddies and a standard morality tale about how, rich or poor, we’re all brothers under the skin and how it takes a poor black man to show an overprivileged white man that life is always worth living, whatever it chucks at you. Which it is in fact but made very watchable by the skills of those who made it.