For our earlier review from TIFF 2017, click here. This cut of the film is different than the version shown in 2017.
Synopsis: Inspired by a true story, The Upside is a heartfelt comedy about a recently paroled ex-convict who strikes up an unusual and unlikely friendship with a paralyzed billionaire. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman
Writer: Jon Hartmere
Director: Neil Burger
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 125mins
There are moments in The Upside that are generally hilarious. The on-screen chemistry between Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, a combination that doesn’t seem like it would be anyone’s first choice, is actually the best part of the film. Cranston’s mild mannered character Phillip, is a natural compliment to Kevin Hart’s loud and energetic Dell. It’s the classic case of opposites complimenting each other. Yet, throughout the entirety of the film, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the film doesn’t really meet its potential.
Kevin Hart is known for playing a very specific type of character. You know the type: his characters are also ones that are loud, obnoxious, outgoing, and erratic. It doesn’t always work, but its become a part of what the audience expects when they go see a film with Hart starring. He still brings that energy to The Upside, but there is an element of subtlety to his performance. You can really tell that he’s toned it down, and for good reason. Whereas a lot of Hart’s films embrace the wacky characters that he portrays, The Upside tries to stay as grounded in reality as it can, which is something the original French version of the film, The Intouchables, does as well. The point of the film is to strike a chord with the audience’s sense of humanity and empathy. For the most part, The Upside is quite effective at this.
The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t explore the characters as much as we would like. Yes, we sympathize with the situations that Dell and Phillip are put through, but this isn’t due to good characterization or a well-written screenplay. The Upside appeals to a very general sense of empathy that most individuals will feel regardless of writing. The thing that The Upside is missing is a reason to care about these characters specifically. We know a little bit about Dell and Phillip’s lives, but we aren’t introduced to their worlds as much as we would like. Instead, there are a lot of scenes throughout the 2+ hour running time that seem too focused on comedy, instead of devoting more time to exploring these characters.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding in comedy, it seems like throughout the entire film, there were scenes that could’ve been cut in order to make more room for ones that facilitated more character development. Does this necessarily make the movie bad? No. There’s still some character development, and it’s not a bad script either. There were just opportunities to make it better than it was.
The Upside is going to leave a lot of people with the question of whether or not it actually needed to be made. Considering how many people already loved the original, The Upside doesn’t really do anything new. It’s largely similar to the original film, and if anything, it actually does some things worse. Although the chemistry between Cranston and Hart is entertaining to watch, just a little more character development and a less predictable plot would have made The Upside a great film.