The Upside (2017)
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This movie joins a list of standout European movies - for example, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; "Let The Right One In"; "Sleepless Night"; etc. - that have had Hollywood "makeovers" that don't match up to the originals. And this is no exception. However, it's still been well made and deserves respect as a standalone piece of movie-making.
Based on a true story, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is left both paraplegic and widowed by a string of bad luck. Not that money can buy you everything, but his care arrangements are substantially helped by him being a multi-millionaire ("Not rich enough to buy The Yankees; Rich enough to buy The Mets"). This is from success in investments and writing about such investments.
Depressed, cranky and with a "DNR" that his diligent PA Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) seems unable to comply with, Phillip lashes out at anyone and everyone and so dispatches his carers with monotonous regularity. Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is on parole, with the requirement to seek work. Due to a mix-up, he finds himself in the employ of Phillip: with the suspicion that he's been hired because he is the very worst candidate imaginable, and thus the most likely to let Phillip shuffle off this mortal coil. But the two men's antipathy to each other slowly thaws as they teach each other new tricks.
Those who have seen "The Intouchables" will fondly remember the first 5 minutes of that film: a flash-forward to a manic police car-chase featuring our protagonists (there played by François Cluzet and Omar Sy). It drops like a comedy hand-grenade to open the film. Unfortunately, you can't help but feel a bit let down by the same re-creation in "The Upside". It has all the same content but none of the heart.
After that rocky start, the film continues to rather stutter along. Part of the reason for this I think is Kevin Hart. It's not that he's particularly bad in the role: it's just that he IS Kevin Hart, and I was constantly thinking "there's that comedian playing that role".
However, once the story gets into its swing, giving Cranston more of a chance to shine (which he does), then the film started to motor and my reservations about Hart started to wane. Some of these story set pieces - such as the one about the art work - are punch-the-air funny in their own right. Cranston's timing in delivering his punchlines is immaculate.
There seems to have been some furore about the casting of Bryan Cranston as the role of the disabled millionaire instead of a disabled actor. Lord save us! He's an actor! That's what actors do for a living: pretend to be people they're not! It's also worth pointing out that François Cluzet was an able-bodied actor as well.
As already mentioned, Bryan Cranston excels in the role. Phillip goes through such a wide range of emotions from despair to pure joy and back again that you can't help but be impressed by the performance.
On the female side of the cast, it's really nice to see Nicole Kidman in such a quiet and understated role and it's nicely done; Aja Naomi King does a nice job as Dell's protective ex-girlfriend Latrice; and there's a nice female cameo as well, which I won't spoil since I wasn't expecting to see her in the film.
As a standalone film it has some laugh-out-loud moments, some feelgood highs and some moments of real pathos. The audience I saw this with was small, but there was still a buzz in the room and sporadic applause as the end titles came up: God only knows that's unusual for a film! The director is "Limitless" and "Divergent" director Neil Burger, and it's a perfectly fun and innocent night out at the flicks that I commend to the house in this month of celluloid awards heavyweights.
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Kevin Hart really held his own in this movie to the point where I'm hoping he will consider doing more movies like this in the future as he showed good range for a comedian. The match-up with Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman was brilliant. I would definitely recommend this for a chill movie night to enjoy with your family.
Inspired by an incredible true story, the movie follows a recently released ex-convict named Dell (Kevin Hart), as he seeks employment to do right by his family's financial needs and regain their trust. He finds the most unusual employment with an offer to care-take the paralyzed billionaire Phillip (Bryan Cranston). Most don't believe in Dell's capabilities, especially chief executive Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), with Dell failing, but slowly learning to care-take. Amidst this process, Dell and Phillip form an unlikely friendship and journey, bettering themselves.
Kevin Hart, as Dell, is my favorite character, as he steps into newfound dramatic territory and delivers exceptionally. As always, his unique sense of humor remains and he is as better than ever with the amicable chemistry he shares with Bryan Cranston. Bryan Cranston, as Phillip, delivers a gravitas to his character when needed, as his condition make him hopeless. In only a way Cranston can deliver, his journey to regain hope and optimism through Dell is very compelling. It also helps that their unique banter is just so funny and intellectually executed. Nicole Kidman, as Yvonne, is another relatable character, as even she learns to smile from Dell, despite her disagreements. Her long history with Phillip is well sold, as well.
Neil Burger serviceably directs the movie, with a great eye for scenery, even if many scenes fall within a repetitive layout at times. My favorite scene is the haircut scene, as it is a fun rendition of the classic French scene and even has more nuances of its own. The main problem with this movie comes from the fact that, in comparison to its French counterpart, there really isn't much of a difference with a few scenes and characters having some subtleties. At times, its pace even takes a hit and even the newer additions don't fare as well as the original. This can be viewed as a bit of a pro, as sticking with the original does prove to its advantage.
The message of this film is that a friendship is a relationship most valued and will always remain irreplaceable. If we all get along, we will strive towards greatness and a happier mental well-being. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18, because of some sexual references and brief drug use.
Reviewed by Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.