The Upside is an English-language remake of The Intouchables, a 2011 French film that earned $10 million at the domestic box office, making it one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films ever released in the United States. It's also somewhat loosely based on a true story. Remaking a hit film from another country is perilous, since the tendency to Hollywood everything up is strong. Adapting a true story is similarly tough, thanks to the ever-present temptation to embellish. Despite being slightly flawed in some respects, The Upside manages to successfully navigate these pitfalls for the most part. It's a pleasant, uplifting picture.
Kevin Hart plays Dell Scott, a guy who's having trouble finding work because of his criminal record. Due to a misunderstanding, he ends up applying for a job as the caretaker to a wealthy paraplegic, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston). Phillip hires him primarily to annoy his business manager, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), after she doesn't honor his DNR order following a medical emergency.
Dell is not even remotely qualified for the job. Nevertheless, he has a way of loosening up the bitter Phillip, getting him out of his penthouse apartment, encouraging him to call the female pen pal he's never met, and even helping him exorcise some of his inner demons. Phillip, meanwhile, helps Dell learn responsibility so that he can become a better father to the son who doesn't quite trust him. The film charts how both men grow as a result of their friendship.
The Upside is the very definition of a "dramedy." It has moments of humor -- notably a funny scene in which Dell nervously tries to change Phillip's catheter -- and other moments that are borderline heartbreaking. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) largely marries the two halves well, although there are times when the comedy is a bit too broad, presumably to give Kevin Hart a chance to be partially in his comfort zone.
Part of why we go to the movies is for optimism -- to believe that problems can be solved, that happiness can be achieved, and that emotional growth is possible. The Upside taps into those ideas. Dell and Phillip each have a personal journey they need to make. Dell has to prove to his estranged wife and son (and to himself) that he can leave his wayward past behind. Phillip needs to remember that it's okay to still enjoy life in the wake of tragedy. The screenplay by Jon Hartmere intersects their individual paths in engaging ways, so that we really do believe the men are better off for knowing each other.
Kevin Hart has a different kind of role here. He gets to flex his comedy muscles, but he gets to tackle some weightier scenes, too. The actor nicely captures Dell's realization that his mistakes have cost him, as well as his desire to see what can be repaired. Hart has strong chemistry with Bryan Cranston, who is obviously robbed of physical movement and must therefore rely on facial expressions and his voice to convey Phillip's emotions. He makes the character's re-embrace of life authentic. Nicole Kidman does excellent supporting work, suggesting how Yvonne's all-business exterior is fueled by deep compassion for her employer.
The Upside is occasionally predictable, occasionally formulaic. A couple of scenes strain plausibility. If you can look past that and focus on the acting and the inherent hopefulness of the plot, you will find a touching feel-good movie about how the right person can enter our lives at the right time, bringing a vision of change with them just when we needed it the most.
out of 4
The Upside is rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.