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Though it can be justifiably critiqued as simplistic and predictable, sometimes the measure of a movie can simply be how much a viewer enjoyed it and The Upside is a very enjoyable, indeed. Featuring fine performances from Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, The Upside is a life-affirming and fun way to spend a few hours. Does it challenge the viewer philosophically? No. Does it encourage the audience to value life and the many different ways which it can be lived? Yes. There is room in the marketplace for movies like The Upside.
Remade from the popular French film Les Intouchables, The Upside tells the story of Hart’s Dell Scott, a down on his luck, ex-con who stumbles into a position as a Life Assistant for Bryan Cranston’s Phillip Lacasse, a quadriplegic billionaire. Both Dell and Phillip are at crossroads: Dell is attempting to figure out how to live his life, Phillip is trying to decide whether he wants to live at all. The Hart/Cranston pairing works and the two stars have significant chemistry.
Hart downplays his trademark broad expressions and tendency to mug for the camera. His Dell is subdued and tightly wound. In only a scene or two does Hart feel he can open Dell up and that he has played things straight during the other parts of the film lends those moments more power and efficacy.
One can see the draw Cranston must have felt when taking the role. The challenge to play role like this must have been enticing and Cranston, surely one of our best actors, is excellent. His portrayal of a man trapped in a broken body approaches great but, through no fault of his own, it does not quite get there.
The Upside is not going to be confused with a masterpiece. It is not trying to be. In a more philosophical and layered film, Cranston would have a broader range to play as would Hart, but that is not what The Upside wants to be. And that is just fine. We need movies like The Upside. They are not hurting anyone.
While The Upside hits all the right notes, it is clearly constrained. It seems to follow its source like a paint-by-number canvas, afraid to color out of those established lines. Pieces that may have worked in the original movie, most notably the inclusion of Nicole Kidman who is given far too little to do as Yvonne, Lacasse’s assistant, do not add much and are too thinly drawn. There is a formula to be followed. Les Intouchables was a big hit. Director Neil Burger knows that and knows what side the bread is buttered on. It’s The Upside.
THE UPSIDE receives THREE and a HALF PLEASANT TROPES out of a possible FIVE