Kevin Hart is a fascinating man right now in the news. He has always been looked at as a source of talent and hard work, but now he is in the news for the wrong reasons. Everything in the Oscars controversy has done damage to his legacy and on top of it all, he has a new film opening this week. Can The Upside weather the storm and be a strong film in this uneasy time? While a bit messy, this film cast a warm charm that is infectious but takes a stumble toward the end of what could’ve been a good film.
The Upside is an American remake of the 2011 French film The Untouchables. It tells the story of a down on his life man who stumbles into a job caring for a wealthy man who happens to be a quadriplegic. Their unlikely bond is formed and a friendship begins to build between the two. This story is prime for emotion right from the get-go with some familiar beats. We have a poor person who connects with a wealthy person and their circumstances help each other see the bright side of life. That’s where this film becomes frustrating. It has the potential to be something fantastic but instead never fully takes grasp of what it has. What is has is solid actors trying their best in a story that never seems to go anywhere. That’s what fails the movie is this script that never feels coherent or even complete. There would be no surprise if it came out that the script was being written while on set. The film looked pleasantly enjoyable from the trailer, and it has its moments, but never let that January release date fool you. This is better than what January usually offers, but not by an exceedingly large margin.
The part that works the most in The Upside is its three leads and the chemistry they share. Bryan Cranston plays the wealthy man and Kevin Hart plays his employee and wow do these two shine. These two do their best to keep this film afloat and carry it to heights it had no business achieving. We have always known how terrific of an actor Cranston is. He’s won many awards for his role in Breaking Bad and has an Oscar nomination to his name as well. He is fantastic and really portrays a disabled man well. Meanwhile Kevin Hart puts on what might be his best performance yet. He is known for his comedy, and there is some of that here, but he steps out of his comfort zone in this film and shows what he’s got. He doesn’t scream and do his same shtick, instead he does the most with the stereo-typical character he is given. Together, the two of them go through fun vignettes where they learn to understand each other better. You have seen this type of story before (Green Book qualifies), but these two make it more than just being familiar. Finally, Nicole Kidman is as great as she always is but, she is in so much currently that you feel you’ve seen her better.
The largest problem with The Upside is its pacing issues and themes. The themes have the potential to be a problem because there are two lenses you can view this film through. A poor man helping a disabled man and vice versa, or a wealthy white man helping a poor black man. Whatever perspective you choose to view this as will determine your enjoyment. Personally, I saw both and the disability angle, and the care to which it is handled outweighed the racial angle. What both of these are not saved from is the pacing. The film never seems to flow like it should, especially in the last fourth. There is a scene that completely disputes the momentum and doesn’t fit with the characters action previous to that. From there they stumble into a solution and wrap it up all within a fifteen-minute span. It feels as if they either ran out of money or time with the actors and had to do a quick solution. There isn’t even closure to make you feel like you saw a finished product. Maybe the script was rushed but the film really does a disservice to its actors by making the film feel incomplete and wasting their performances.
The Upside is a mediocre yet charming film that is elevated by its performances but let down by its pacing. There will be plenty talked about surrounding the film. However, this film is charming and has some wonderful moments of emotion and humor that will make it a crowd-pleaser. The positives outweighed the negatives which makes it worth the watch.
The Verdict – 3.5/5 Stars