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Family Movie Review: The Upside (PG-13)

‘The Upside’ has funny moments, but lacks warmth.

Kernel Rating: 2.5 (2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film about an unlikely friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic man and a former drug dealer with a criminal record attempts to navigate issues of race and class, but for the most part the movie relies on some cheap jokes to get there, including some homophobic humor, some jokes about proper words for male genitalia, and some flirting and sexually charged jokes and language. One character purchases marijuana for medical purposes for another character, and there is a scene where they get high and eat a shocking amount of food. Overall, the movie’s plot and elements are more adult in tone (a woman dying of cancer is shown; there are discussions about death and suicide) and would be most appropriate for parents and older teenagers.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Upside” has the elements of a heart-warming film—a gentler turn from comedian Kevin Hart, a story about overcoming personal doubt and providing for your family, and Nicole Kidman!—but this American remake of the French film “The Intouchables” doesn’t leave much of an impression.

TheUpside1 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThe film starts off by proclaiming itself as “based on a true story,” and that is somewhat accurate. “The Intouchables” was inspired by the life story of the wealthy French businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, but “The Upside” is an Americanized spin on a story that was already fictionalized. So there are layers of distance here from the original story, and the film feels lesser because of it—there is a disappointing lack of depth that makes the characters and the plot feel quite thin.

Set in New York City in present day, “The Upside” focuses on two men. Dell (Kevin Hart, of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) was recently released from prison after serving time and is struggling to find a job so he doesn’t return to dealing drugs and petty theft. Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston, of “Saban’s Power Rangers”) is an extraordinarily wealthy quadriplegic businessman holed up in his penthouse home searching for a new “life auxiliary,” or caretaker. This person would help move Phillip in and out of bed, feed him, prepare him for his day, accompany him outside, and be available 24 hours a day.

Yvonne (Nicole Kidman, of “Aquaman”), an executive at Phillip’s company who has transitioned into a role helping manage his personal affairs, has prepared a list of extensively qualified candidates — but in waltzes Dell, and his no-nonsense personality (and refusal to treat Phillip with any kind of pity, instead engaging with him somewhat brusquely and combatively) appeals to Lacasse. Against Yvonne’s wishes, Phillip hires Dell, and soon the two are spending hours and hours of time together. Taking care of Phillip makes Dell realize how absent he has been from his adolescent son’s life; being around Dell makes Phillip realize that he had given up on living. How else can the two men change each other?

This all sounds very inspirational, but the movie’s refusal to explore any of its own thematic content makes “The Upside” profoundly unmemorable. The original French film focused on the class gap between its two main characters, but in this version, Hart’s character is continuously impressed by Phillip’s wealth and is able to use it—he borrows luxury cars, he attends exclusive parties, he uses money to feel better about himself. There’s no friction in terms of wealth or race between these two characters, and while that supports the film’s “anyone can be friends” message, it also means the movie doesn’t really have much narrative motion.

The film tries to complement all this with Hart’s usual humor, but it’s sometimes homophobic (when he balks at having to insert Phillip’s catheter), and although the zany Hart and stern Cranston nicely contrast each other, their chemistry onscreen is failed by superficial writing. “The Upside” has all the elements of a heartwarming film and sometimes arranges them in compelling ways, but the film overall lacks warmth for its characters or passion for its plot.

 Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.  

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