REVIEW: The Upside (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – STX Films / Lantern Entertainment

The following is a short review of The Upside — Directed by Neil Burger.

A remake of Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano’s French film, Intouchables, from 2011, Neil Burger’s The Upside follows Dell Scott (played by Kevin Hart), an African-American father on parole, who is hired to be the caregiver of the quadriplegic millionaire Phillip Lacasse (played by Bryan Cranston), who, after having lost his wife, has lost his will to live. Together, they form an — according to this film’s cliched formula — unlikely friendship from which they both learn a lot about life and culture.

Shot in early 2017 but shelved following the Harvey Weinstein allegations (The Weinstein Company was the original distributor), The Upside is a film that has been on its way for a long time and understandably so. The original French film was a major hit with audiences, but, nevertheless, the release of the American remake was eventually postponed to January of 2019. January, of course, has gotten the reputation that it is a ‘dumping ground’ for films that studios have little faith in.

More than ten minutes longer than the French original, this American remake adds little more than a cultural translation to this extremely cliched but true story. Admittedly, the structure is changed a little bit, and Nicole Kidman’s character seems to be a composite character, but, more than anything else, it is Americanized — or, Hollywoodized.

This means that the script includes obvious lines about servitude during the job interview, but also some jokes that are decidedly more at home in the States — like comments about the rules of baseball, which, Kidman’s very Australian but poorly-designed character, somehow knows a lot about. This also means that there are these hazy camera-movements in one scene where the two main characters are both under the influence of drugs. The cultural translation also robs the film of the believable astonishment on the caregiver’s face when he takes in his new home, which, in the French film, seems almost like the insides of a French castle, whereas, in the American version, it’s just a very nice modern hotel room.

The cultural translation of the story in Intouchables is, for the most part, not particularly engrossing. My biggest frustration with it was the completely unnecessary dream sequences that Lacosse has here. To the best of my recollection, such did not exist in Intouchables. Though it is refreshing and interesting to see Kevin Hart in a more dramatic role than he is used to, his performance is no match for the extremely charismatic performance given by Omar Sy in the French film, and Hart’s chemistry and friendship with Cranston’s character is nowhere near as believable or charming as Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet’s in Intouchables.

Nevertheless, both Cranston and Hart give adequate performances for this unremarkable remake. Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, is given absolutely nothing to work with from her thankless role, which, again, seems like a composite of two characters from Nakache and Toledano’s film, and the changes to the ending almost read as a last-ditch attempt to tap into Kidman’s unused star-power.

I suppose this is a perfectly enjoyable, well-intentioned, and harmless film for the majority of audiences seeing this film. However, if you have experienced the French original, you will probably be disappointed by the inferior Americanized version, which lifts entire jokes and scenes from the original film with little success. It is nice to see Hart in a more dramatic role, but The Upside is an unneeded and uninspired Americanized remake of a hit-not-in-the-English-language.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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