'The Upside' Is a Mess of Carpe Diem Clichés Directed by Neil Burger
Starring Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Aja Naomi King, Tate Donovan
Published Jan 10, 2019The Upside is based on a true story. That's ironic, since it doesn't resemble real life so much as a cobbled together mess of carpe diem clichés, luxury porn and workplace sexual harassment.
In this adaptation of the 2011 hit French film The Intouchables, Bryan Cranston plays Phillip Lacasse, a fabulously rich paraplegic searching for a new "life surrogate" to help him with day-to-day tasks. For some reason, he hires ex-con Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), who is lazy, totally unqualified, and openly admits that he only applied for the job to appease his parole officer. Gay panic jokes about catheters ensue.
In addition to mobility issues, both of the guys are grappling with demons: Phillip is mourning his late wife, whom he lost to cancer, while Dell is attempting to reconnect with his son (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) and estranged wife (Aja Naomi King) after years of neglect.
In a support role, business manager Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) essentially amounts to the pair's nagging mom.
As you've doubtless already guessed, the protagonists strike up an unlikely friendship that blends the buddy comedy vibe of Rush Hour, the cloying joie de vivre of The Bucket List, and more gratuitous displays of wealth than an episode of Entourage. The whole thing is wrapped up in a schmaltzy redemption narrative, as the guys learn some sort of lesson about living in the moment while also accepting responsibility for their actions. Basically, they just smoke weed and go paragliding.
The script is corny as hell and the two-hour-plus runtime is way too long, but director Neil Burger does manage to wring some emotion out of the story — mostly thanks to solid performances from the leads.
Then again, perhaps Cranston shouldn't have ever been given the role, as The Upside is currently facing controversy for not hiring a paraplegic actor to play Phillip. If the filmmakers had found a disabled actor, this would still be lousy movie with a bad script, but at least it would have represented a step forward for inclusiveness in Hollywood.