It’s easy to raise an eyebrow to The Upside. A remake of the meditative, mirthful and life-affirming Intouchables from 2011, the whole enterprise feels unnecessary.
Yet taken on its own terms, this rehash provides a charming, if slightly superficial, spin on the story. Indeed, even if you may yearn to revisit the original after leaving the cinema, the upside to The Upside is that it is an earnest, funny and at times powerful watch in its own right.
The story follows the intertwining lives of Dell (Kevin Hart) and Phillip (Bryan Cranston). At the film’s beginning, their lives couldn’t be further apart. Dell is fresh out of prison and halfheartedly searching for jobs while Phillip is a multimillionaire who has recently become quadriplegic following a gliding accident. World weary and increasingly misanthropic, Phillip decides to give Dell the chance to be his Life Auxiliary. Needless to say, the men begin to learn all manner of life lessons from each other.
This premise wanders close to pastiche. The elder, white, rich man brooding while the down-on-his-luck yet quippy black man gawps at the luxury he now inhabits. This can feel old-fashioned and would be more problematic if the pair didn’t spark so well off each other. The Upside is decidedly a double-header, and Hart and Cranston feel intimately comfortable with each other on screen.
Hart’s performance in particular leans into the adage that comedians can transition well into straighter roles. While sometimes Hart can be a distractingly hyperactive screen presence, his take here is much more laconic. His droll humour anchors the film with a comedic rhythm which peppers the film’s two-hour running time with laughs. The Upside is an extremely funny film, one which benefits from being seen with a crowd. There’s something deeply infectious about its earnestness, and the central pairing consistently endear themselves to the audience.
The film fares slightly less well with the heftier emotions. You feel like the film could work harder to get under the skin of the racial prejudice inflecting Dell’s life, and the death of Phillip’s wife is dealt with abruptly. The female characters in this film are notably thin. Nicole Kidman strains to get as much out of her character Yvonne as possible, but there is a gnawing lack of depth.
This being said, a birthday-gone-wrong scene flies out of left-field and sees the film grasp for pathos in a genuinely powerful way. It’s not that The Upside is disinterested in the harsher tones of its story, it’s just that it’s palpably more interested in the moments of rousing comedy or heartfelt triumph. This has been pitched squarely to the ‘Feel Good’ market and it would be disingenuous to claim it doesn’t have the desired affect.
It’s definitely possible to pull apart the threads of this film like an old, knitted jumper. It’s infinitely more enjoyable to stick it on and feel the warmth.