In The Upside, Kevin Hart plays Dell Scott, a recently-released con who needs proof of three job applications to pacify his parole officer, and finds himself hired by Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a billionaire paraplegic, as his caregiver. Lacasse’s assistant, Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman), sees Scott for what he has been, and doubts his untrained, unrefined inexperience will last alongside Lacasse. But this story wouldn’t have been told if Scott wasn’t up for the task.
The film is not getting good reviews. It’s slammed for being too sweet, for being too cliched, for being a muzzle on the explosive hilarity of Hart. Rather than write another review of the film, consider this a defense of the film, a reminder that sometimes, with true stories, we get to see the best of humanity.
Inspired by the life of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the film is the third remake of the French film The Intouchables. In both versions, there is a rich white man who, himself objectified and ignored, finds camaraderie with a black man, alone and sinking. In the midst of their cultural, financial, and intellectual differences, the two of them recognize the potential that the other has for creativity, for friendship, and for love. What isn’t to like about this?
For starters, I’m of the opinion that Hart can’t handle the full load of a film. Yes, he’s clever and funny, but even Night School’s strongest moments involve the ensemble (or at least Tiffany Haddish), not just Hart doing Hart. With Bryan Cranston as his witty, but straight-shooting foil, Hart is able to play the funny, witty guy but under control. He also has the chops to play a more varied role than he has in the past, and the role of Scott suits him.
The chemistry between Cranston and Hart works – they play off stereotypes and provide some genuinely funny, touching moments. One of my favorites involves Cranston’s physically crippled but still intellectually brilliant Lacasse burning another rich jerk in Tate Donovan’s Carter Locke, providing comic levity but also showing how Lacasse sees Scott as more than the sum of his rap sheet. In the world we live in with its policies, walls, laws, and brutality, The Upside asks us to see people for more than a first glance, to appreciate their gifts, and to love them the way God made them.
Acknowledging that a black man doesn’t have the same status as a white one, or that handicapped people are often ignored, the film feels good because it shows what love can do. But it also doesn’t shy from tackling issues like absentee fathers, grief, and shame: it’s not a perfect picture, but it shows how imperfect people can help each other put the pieces back together.
Don’t believe all the negativity: The Upside is one of those movies we need right now.