The Upside pairs up Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart in this remake of French comedy drama “Intouchables”, based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Yasmin Sellou.

The Upside

Warning: mild spoilers.

At first glance, “The Upside” delivers nothing new, relying on a formula that has been successful at least since “The Odd Couple” (but probably even before that). Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a quadriplegic millionaire who has pretty much given up on life. Formerly active and successful, the accident that left him in a wheelchair and even more the death of his wife have left him depressed, grumpy and lethargic. Dell (Kevin Hart) is a black small-time criminal with a big mouth and an equally big attitude. The latter character particularly seems like a walking cliché – deadbeat dad, uneducated, and just trying to get a signature so he can go back to his unemployment check in peace, with the movie even throwing in the “going to the wrong job interview by accident” trope. The unlikely pair is thrown together when Phillip decides to hire Dell as his live-in carer more or less on a whim, a move regarded with utter disdain and suspicion by his assistant, Yvonne.

Predictably, an unlikely friendship develops. Dell injects some much-needed adventure into Phillip’s rote existence, rekindling his spirits. Phillip’s influence serves to culture and educate Dell, improving his relationship with his ex-wife and son and inspiring him to get his life back on track. The inevitable conflict is just as inevitably resolved, without being drawn out too much. No viewer will be particularly surprised by the ending.

How, then, does “The Upside” get away with all this?

By being utterly and thoroughly enjoyable. The entire story is predictable from start to finish, but it is just done so well that it does not matter. Cranston and Hart have believable chemistry that makes you think they probably enjoyed working together. The acting is great throughout, with no false tones. Phillip’s condition is never exploited for pathos but it is also never made light of – one of the most poignant scenes for me was the brutal honesty depicting the difficulty of a first, tentative attempt at romance. The ending, while predictable, nevertheless feels earned and as a viewer you want the story to end in exactly this way – I found myself rooting for the main characters at every stage, laughing out loud with the rest of the theatre at some scenes, coming close to tears at others. I came out of the movie feeling uplifted and glad to have seen a beautiful movie with a great cast.

As a final disclaimer – no, I have not seen the French original. I am aware that this is a remake (if that bothers you, you can also be upset about the Argentinian and Indian remake, as well as the upcoming Bollywood version), and I will probably look up the French version since it is said to be excellent. For the time being, I definitely find enough merit in this Hollywood version to wholeheartedly recommend it. A great story can stand being told more than once.

  • Director: Neil Burger
  • Written by: Jon Hartmere
  • Starring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman
  • Rated PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
  • Budget: $16,000,000 est.
  • Release Date: January 2019

Review by Heike Koenig