The release of “The Upside” had been a long time coming. This Americanized remake of the 2011 hit French movie “The Intouchables” began filming in January 2017. At the time its distributor was The Weinstein Company.
That September, “The Upside” had its world premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival – to mixed reviews from the handful of critics in attendance. Nonetheless, TWC was set to release it before the end of the year for awards qualification. Golden Globes Best Actor in a Comedy buzz was stirring for stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston.
But about a month later the Harvey Weinstein scandal began taking shape. All future Weinstein movies, including “The Upside”, went into limbo. In August 2018, STX Films, the studio behind “Bad Moms” and “Molly’s Game”, announced they had assumed distribution rights. But the studio had no plans to showcase the film, deciding instead for a January 11, 2019 release.
And so here we are, facing the overriding question: is “The Upside” worth the wait?
Hart plays Dell Scott, an ex-con looking to make amends with his son and the boy’s mom. While looking for a job he stumbles upon the opportunity to become a caretaker for Phillip Lacasse (Cranston). Lacasse is a best-selling author and financial guru who is RICH. He lives in a Manhattan penthouse, has a collection of fancy cars and admits he could buy the NY Mets if he so chose. But due to a paragliding accident, Lacasse has become a paraplegic – unable to move his arms and legs. He’s also still mourning the death of his wife from cancer.
At first, Scott isn’t sure the job is right for him. Neither does Lacasse’s stern personal assistant Yvonne Pendelton (Nicole Kidman). But Lacasse sees something in Scott – and they form a relationship that will be explored and tested.
Because of the subject matter “The Upside” isn’t as silly or goofy as a typical Hart comedy. There are scenes and individual moments that veer in that direction (most of those are rather unfunny). But at least half the time, this film is a legitimate drama. All three main characters, along with a handful of supporting players, are dealing with real and serious issues. I can’t say there’s a perfect balance – but there’s a balance.
This makes the role of Scott a notable change of pace for Hart, who handles himself well going toe-to-toe with some of the best in the business in Cranston and Kidman. Both deliver strong performances with ease.
“The Upside” is a basic (based on a true) story. The ups and downs of these characters are rarely surprising. A pivotal sequence late in the film, featuring Cranston and an actresses in a surprising cameo, helps elevate things (I’ll be shocked if it’s still not on my most memorable list at the end of the year). It’s the most raw, honest and stirring moment in the entire film. And the follow-up scene between Cranston and Hart is also quiet effective, their best interaction.
If you’re a fan of these three stars and are looking for a feel-good picture right now that’s not involved in awards season, “The Upside” is a solid choice – with very little downside.