How far can tremendous chemistry between leads take an otherwise average film? Does that one aspect that goes above and beyond make up for shortcomings in other parts of a piece of cinema? The answer varies, but in the case of The Upside, it’s just enough to warrant a recommendation. Seeing stars Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart play off of each other in this remake of the French hit The Intouchables is often a treat. When the film tries to be overly serious, it falls flat. When it opts for comedy, it’s on firmer ground. Mostly, it’s at its best when things are just a showcase for Cranston and Hart to enjoy each other’s company.
The movie is a dramedy and, as previously mentioned, a remake. While searching for a new home care assistant, quadriplegic Phillip (Cranston) is less than enamored with the candidates. Deeply depressed after his injury and the death of his wife, Phillip rejects everyone that his executive Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) presents to him. Then, almost as an accident, Dell (Hart) shows up, just hoping to get his job search papers signed, in order to please his Parole Officer. Something about Dell intrigues Phillip though, so he offers him the job, much to Yvonne’s surprise. What begins as a rocky pairing soon turns into a warm and winning friendship. Anyone who has seen The Intouchables won’t be surprised by the plot, but it’s surprisingly pleasant, especially when the focus is just on Cranston and Hart. Neil Burger directs the adaptation penned by Jon Hartmere. Supporting players here include Tate Donovan, Golshifteh Farahani, Aja Naomi King, Julianna Margulies, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, and many more. Stuart Dryburgh handles the cinematography, while Rob Simonsen composed the score.
Cranston and Hart make this film worth watching. When the plot steps back and the two just display some top notch chemistry, things are on fairly firm ground. Otherwise, it’s just a lesser version of the French original. Cranston aces a role that likely didn’t really challenge him, though Hart impresses, dialing back his more grating quirks. As for Kidman, she’s rather wasted, as are the other supporting players. At over two hours, there’s a whole lot of fluff here, but the shared moments between Cranston and Hart are so good that they drag this across the finish line by the end.
In an alternate universe, The Upside might have been an Oscar player. That’s certainly what the hope was when The Weinstein Company initially launched this project a few years back. The roles played by Cranston and Hart are tailor made to be embraced by voters. Just look at Green Book, which is also a mismatched buddy tale. Now, that’s a great film that’s going to get Academy Award love. This is just an okay movie, so it falls short of the mark that gets you on to the radar of voters. It’s worth seeing, obviously, but keep your expectations in check.
Fans of Cranston and especially Hart will like what they find if they take in The Upside. If you’ve previously seen The Intouchables, you’ll have seen a better version of this story, but if the plot is new to you, the flick may well hit home in a bigger way. Regardless, there’s enough here, especially with the stars’ chemistry, that you’ll enjoy what you see. The charisma on display is palpable. Don’t go in expecting an awards player or anything of the sort. Just go in expecting to charming actors to be at their charismatic best. In that regard, this more than justifies its own existence.
Be sure to check out The Upside, in theaters everywhere this weekend!