The Upside: Fun Times with Bad Timing

 By Jonathan Shuping

January 13, 2019

Sometimes timing is everything. If Wyatt Earp had been released before Tombstone, it might be considered the Western classic that its rival ultimately and universally is. Unfortunately for The Upside, Green Book hit theaters and won audiences over about a month sooner.

Between Kevin Hart’s Oscar-hosting debacle and the film’s long shelving as one of the final Weinstein Company productions, The Upside is already behind the eight ball in terms of reception. And sure, it may not be as politically correct as our current social climate would like, but there’s nothing overtly insulting or offensive in this somewhat cliche-ridden Diet Green Book. A disabled man feigns a seizure in order to throw off the cops during a Scent of a Woman-esque joyride and an African-American ex-con takes delight in discovering art and opera courtesy of an over-educated white dude. Is that really what we are collectively put-off by today? It doesn’t warrant that much controversy.  

Kevin Hart as Dell Scott and Bryan Cranston as Phillip Lacasse. Courtesy of STX Entertainment

A remake of beloved French film The Intouchables, The Upside is a dramedy based on the true story of a billionaire quadriplegic who hires an unemployed parolee as his caretaker, or “life auxiliary.” The odd couple pairing of Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart actually works brilliantly thanks to extraordinary chemistry between the two leads, and Nicole Kidman continues her non-stop 2018-19 ass-kicking tour with an understated but no less impressive performance as Cranston’s dedicated and endearing business associate.

Kevin Hart fans certainly won’t be disappointed. Not only are there plenty of laughs but Hart also gets to flex his dramatic chops in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Showrunner/director extraordinaire Vince Gilligan once said in regard to his casting of Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (and its spin-off Better Call Saul) that success as a dramatic actor doesn’t necessarily mean they can do comedy, but a great comedic actor is, perhaps surprisingly, usually very adept at drama. Think Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting or even Dan Aykroyd in Grosse Pointe Blank. Hart certainly impresses in his first not-completely-zany role which bodes well for the evolution of his acting career going forward.

Kevin Hart as Dell Scott and Bryan Cranston as Phillip Lacasse. Courtesy of STX Entertainment

There’s not an overabundance of style in Neil Burger’s (The Illusionist, Limitless) direction and, at 125 minutes, the pacing stalls at times while some subplots meander. Still, it’s certainly worth $10 ticket and a great date movie or even night out for families with older kids who might be cool with a catheter joke or a marijuana laugh; the language is mild and there are no sex scenes or violence.

All in all, The Upside is an enjoyable, heartwarming film that will leave you amused and uplifted, but if you’re looking for real social commentary that’s hilarious, inspiring and thought-provoking, Green Book is absolutely the way to go.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 

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