From the moment I saw the trailer for “The Upside,” I knew I had to see it. I’m not a fan of Kevin Hart or comedies, but what the hey, man? Let’s do this.
Unfortunately, I proved to be one of the folks in the audience who wasn’t blown away by the film. In fact, as the credits rolled, one man behind me commented on how this film was going to win a lot of awards.
Bless his heart.
“The Upside” stars Bryan Cranston and Hart as two men thrown together because of unfortunate circumstances. Phillip (Cranston) is a quadriplegic who’s lost the will to live or any semblance of happiness. Dell (Hart) is a homeless parolee. Don’t feel too bad. He’s homeless because he’s a deadbeat dad, and his ex refuses to let him stay with her. To avoid being thrown back in prison, he must prove to his parole officer he’s trying to find employment and get on with his life.
Which brings us to Phillip. Dell doesn’t really want a job, but he needs three signatures from potential employers. He goes to Phillip’s penthouse, hoping to interview for a janitorial position. Instead, he inadvertently enters into an interview for a life auxiliary — basically a live-in caregiver for Phillip — and somehow lands the job.
The two are incredibly mismatched, which is the whole basis for the movie. Unfortunately, for me, while there are moments that are incredibly funny, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that Dell is, to put it bluntly, a jackass. He and Phillip butt heads from the beginning, and a lot of it is due to Dell’s temperament. The film is an opposites-attract, buddy-comedy kind of thing, but it just falls flat.
Interestingly enough, “The Upside” is kind of based on a true story, and it’s also the third remake of a 2011 French film, “Intouchables,” which details Phillippe and Abdel’s life together. There are things in the film that are quite true. The real Phillippe describes Abdel as “intolerable, vain and arrogant,” according to a Telegraph article.
Oh good. I thought he was unlikable simply because the writers thought it would be fun.
There’s a lot going on in this film. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman, in a dowdy wig) is Phillip’s right-hand woman. She distrusts Dell from the start, but that’s mostly because she knows Phillip wants to die, so he hired the worst life auxiliary he could find. (Also, I’m not quite sure why you cast Kidman in a role, then try to make her frumpy. If you want frumpy, don’t cast Kidman. She can totally knock “uptight” out of the park, but “frumpy” is a bit of a struggle.)
Add in Phillip’s late wife, who he dreams of nightly, his pen pal, Lily (Julianna Margulies), who he has a crush on, and Dell’s dysfunctional non-family life, and there’s a lot going on in the film.
I do believe the story of Phillippe and Abdel — who’s not black by the way — is motion picture worthy. What I have a problem with is the fact I truly didn’t like some of the main characters.
Dell is the caricature of an angry black man in America. He’s lazy, neglects his family and got mixed in with the wrong crowd. His son, who seems to be delightful, is perhaps destined to end up with that same crowd. Dell isn’t a nice man. He’s not nice to Phillip, and his behavior toward his ex and child are kind of despicable. Maybe that’s just my own opinion as the daughter of a deadbeat dad, but it’s not something I enjoyed watching.
Yvonne is frigid. That’s the best way I can put it. And then, there’s Phillip. Each night, he dreams of paragliding, his dead wife and perhaps wishes for death. After an outing/first meeting with Lily, he truly does give up on life. Seriously. His dismay is shown by the fact he grows a beard. It’s downright cataclysmic.
Don’t worry, the film is called “The Upside,” so of course it picks right back up. Instead, everything is finished off with a neat, tidy bow that’s a little reminiscent of a Disney film ending.
There are funny moments, like Phillip’s random “That’s what she said” as Dell tries to change Phillip’s catheter. (While I might hate a film being so low brow as to include poo jokes, apparently, I’ll laugh quite a bit at catheter jokes. Go figure.) And it’s kind of funny when Dell experiences an automated shower that apparently offers monsoon settings. Seriously, who needs those?
But, the problem is that while there were moments that made me chuckle or even moments that I thought were sweet, it was a film that just missed the mark on so many levels. The sweetness was too saccharine until it just wasn’t. Tate Donovan (“The OC’s” Jimmy Cooper) is cast simply to be the racist neighbor who’s scared of a black felon. The film just tries sooooo hard on every level. But, the actual relationship development and character development are missing.
Dell becomes a nice guy with a steady job overnight. Phillip decides life is worth living because he gets a shave. And don’t even get me started on Yvonne. I saw another film this weekend, “Green Book” that doesn’t make the relationship between two opposites seem so trite. If you need to see a comedy about an odd pairing, do yourself a favor and check out “Green Book.” After all, you’ve already seen the best parts of “The Upside” in the trailer.