In light of the abysmal critical reception that has met The Upside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a scarlet woman returning to a party after being caught fellating the hostess’ husband in the bathroom. Countless reviews have lambasted this remake of 2011 French buddy comedy-drama The Intouchables. Also inspired by the life of Phillipe Pozzo di Borgo, Neil Burger’s The Upside traces the developing relationship between Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a quadriplegic billionaire, and Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), his young, recently paroled African-American carer. Critics opine that this flat offering is just as flawed as its predecessor, coming off as even more mawkish and basic, while simultaneously failing to exhibit any of its abundant charm.
While I was completely taken by the hilariously charismatic tomfoolery of the original, as well as its bold but triumphant quest towards the lighter side of disability, The Upside isn’t the giant coop of turkeys that everyone is making it out to be. It may tackle the racial and societal politics of the whole ‘rich, white man; poor, black man’ thing in a faintly dated way – with many a cliché along the way – but this is neutralised by the fact that it’s funny as fuzz. From Lacasse’s dry query as to how a paralysed man is supposed to autograph a book, to Dell’s sardonic assertion that opera is so big in prison that it’s almost impossible to get a seat on opera night, the film taps into a unique brand of comedy that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Jon Hartmere’s screenplay is not only super witty but also Hart-warming. Get it? Nudge, nudge. At its core, this is a story about friendship of the unlikeliest sort. It’s about two troubled humans from disparate worlds coming together and helping each other achieve the growth they so desperately need. The appearance of opera throughout – which culminates in a rendition of Nessun Dorma by Aretha Franklin – seems to irk many who appear to have overlooked that this is clearly symbolic of a meeting of minds; of the division between two sides of the track weakening.
Ok, so The Upside might not push the envelope – something Lacasse claims he had a taste for doing before being paralysed in a paragliding accident – but it tries really hard. And its efforts aren’t in vain. Lacasse’s ethereal flashbacks pack a softer punch than they could, and a trick is missed with Dell’s father being a con artist while he becomes an artist of sorts. However, this is feel-good film-making at its best, somewhat reminiscent of The Blind Side.
Burger gives his cast roles that allow them to surpass themselves. Cranston brings the perfect combination of muted contentment and brusque despair to his character, while Hart’s turn as a bad-tempered and mouthy ex-con is more than enjoyable. Sadly, Nicole Kidman isn’t put through her professional paces as Lacasse’s remarkably devoted and forbearing business manager Yvonne but her performance is a decent one nonetheless.
All in all, The Upside is a pleasant, hilarious and touching take on the odd-couple premise that demonstrates true feeling and reasonable depth. It is formulaic but that’s not always to be scoffed at. Extending past serviceable, this film does exactly what it says on the tin. As long as you watch it with that in mind, a sweet treat awaits.