Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies
DIRECTOR:  Neil Burger
GENRE: Comedy/ Drama

There are multiple factors to consider when evaluating a film: story line...acting... cinematography...soundtrack. Sometimes one stands out and makes up for weaknesses in the other areas. In The Upside, a remake of the hit French film from 2011--The Intouchables (reviewed here)--it's the personnel on hand. The quality cast. 

To wit: Bryan Cranston, who plays Phillip, a quadriplegic billionaire (a paragliding accident has him permanently confined to the chair). Cranston does all of his acting from the neck up. No easy feat.

Kevin Hart brings his comedic instincts to the part of Dell, the man who gets hired as Phillip's caretaker and companion. Dell is totally unqualified for the position. He lives on the fringes of the law and he's way behind on his child support payments. He doesn't even want the job--he's just out collecting signatures  to appease his parole officer--until he learns how much it pays. Phillip sees something in him that represents rebellion. Freedom. Adventure. It will happen.

Hart plays Dell as a hapless slacker. In the original film, Dell's counterpart, "Driss," is portrayed by Omar Sy. He's more of a thuggish, straight-ahead tough guy. So there's a different tone to the character. There are laughs in both versions, but in The Upside Hart is spoon-feeding them to us (like he haphazardly spoon feeds Philip).  But every film should stand on its own, and as we all know, movies that are"based" on a book or a true story or another film often fiddle with the particulars.

Nicole Kidman is Phil's gal Friday, who is staunchly opposed to the hiring of Dell in the beginning. I think of Kidman as our finest living actress. I came to this mindset after viewing her fiery performance in Eyes Wide Shut. Since then I've examined her work with a more critical eye, and she is the real deal. Here she is looking radiant and almost school-girlish, belying her 51 years on the planet. 

The exquisite Julianna Margulies as Phil's pen pal rounds out the cast. Their dinner meeting together is  bittersweet, and marks the turning point in the film. 

All that and you get Aretha Franklin singing opera in the background! That's different.

I gave The Intouchables an "A" grade. I like the remake almost as much as the original.

Grade: B +


When I went to see The Upside, I had some pro and con prejudices about the actors. Con Kevin Hart (too attention-grabbing) and pro Bryan Cranston (AKA William White in "Breaking Bad"). By the end, my preconceived opinions were eradicated.

This seems to be the year of movies featuring totally opposite characters who become bosom buddies, i.e. Green Book and now The Upside. (It all began with Stanley Kramer's 1958 classic The Defiant Ones with convicts Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, eventually learning to trust, even like each another.)

There have been some great films about quadriplegics. To name two of my favorites,The Sea Inside (2004, Javier Bardem) and The Sessions (2012, Helen Hunt). I will now add The Upside to this list. It's a totally engrossing film with more humor, much more, than those other two....

Sure, there are some unbelievable moments but once you buy into the premise, it's a fun ride. When Hart's character earns a $50,000 check for a painting and spends it on a fancy automobile and two apartments in NYC my practical side scoffed. (I kept thinking of my niece's daughter who pays $2500 a month for a 500 sq. ft. studio in lower Manhattan.) And some of the antics (car chases, paragliding, etc.) seemed a bit hard to imagine for someone as physically compromised as Cranston's character. But imagine them I did – and was much the happier for the experience.

Emotionally, I'd like to give The Upside an A. But a small part of me feels it was too happy and upside-ish for the actual situation. I'd love to know how a quadriplegic viewer would react.

Grade: B +