by Matt Weiner
The man who can’t feel a thing meets the man who hasn’t cared for anybody but himself. You will not believe what happens next.
Actually, if you’ve seen any inspirational movie about overcoming adversity in the last half century, you will totally believe what happens next. There is one big surprise in The Upside, though, and it’s how committed the leads are to making it way less cynical than it has every right to be.
I’m not sure it’s enough to redeem a film that’s been done dozens of times, but at least it makes this entry highly watchable. For this version, Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart star as the odd couple from different walks of life who learn valuable lessons from each other in unexpected ways.
After being paralyzed from the neck down and losing his wife to cancer in short succession, billionaire investor Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) has given up on life. A chance encounter with street-smart parolee Dell Scott (Hart) brings a burst of fresh air into Lacasse’s narrow world, and Dell is hired on as a live-in aide.
Lacasse sees potential in Dell and appreciates having someone who treats him as a person, not merely someone to be pitied or ignored. It’s an admirable sentiment, and the chemistry between Cranston and Hart is the most winsome part of the movie. And a good deal more enjoyable than the contrived romantic subplot with Nicole Kidman, who gets to put her real accent to good use but not much else.
Cranston and Hart play off each other so well that it makes you wonder why not put that talent to work with a less hidebound story? The Upside is an adaptation by Neil Burger of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, which was wildly popular despite suffering from the same clichés. The script for the remake by Jon Hartmere manages to make the story a little more subtly endearing than colonial when Lacasse, doing his best platonic Henry Higgins, teaches Dell to appreciate fine art and opera. Just a little.
But banish those nagging doubts from your mind. The Upside pleads to be taken as all text, no subtext. This is, after all, a movie that turns themes, lessons and even symbolism into neatly packaged dialogue. You won’t hear anything new, but a lot of it is genuinely funny and well-delivered.
And who am I to judge the French for shopworn sincerity? They’re not the country that gave an Oscar to Crash.