The Upside is a remake of a French film I’ve been meaning to see, that’s also based on a true story. It’s also known for a bit of casting controversy, having able-bodied Bryan Cranston play a quadriplegic billionaire, but without broaching that discussion handled much better than people more informed than I, I’ll continue to just look at the face value of this movie.
Which, overall, is pretty average and fine. The Upside never reaches the bounds of greatness or attaining any sense of importance or resonance, but it sure tries and thinks it has.
Director Neil Burger has a great name and a string of average films, and this is no different. Funnily enough, those films are also memorable in concept but not context, where The Upside is more of the same.
It’s to no fault of the performances. Kevin Hart certainly tries to go beyond his comedy, but it’s the stuff he’s good at that’s his strength here. His story is very by the numbers how you would expect it to be.
Cranston continues to show that he has a brilliant range, wonderfully being comedic and dramatic when he has to.
The issue with The Upside though is that...it’s not anything remarkable. Some ideas feel hollow or on the nose. I wouldn’t hand-wave it all as just cliche, but it does feel too familiar and as expected when you consider the situation we’re given.
It’s strongest with its leads. Cranston and Hart have some fantastic chemistry, which seems to be a testament to Hart. He may not have the best filmography, but his chemistry with his leads usually turns out to be the closest thing to a saving grace each and every time.
All the moments of real gravitas feel like flat attempts at creating so. For every by the book moment between ex-con Hart and his family, or Cranston trying to date, or Hart discovering opera, there’s nothing powerful or worthwhile.
Its key scenes are the light hearted ones, even if they too are predictable. There’s a scene where Hart needs to replace Cranston’s catheter, and if you try to picture how you think that scene plays out, it’s exactly that way, even down to Hart’s expressions and mannerisms.
The Upside just feels like it has a solid idea and mission as a movie, but just feels phoned in and underdeveloped. The screenplay is full of smart hooks, but it’s flanked by indistinguishable time skips and character moments that come out of nowhere or aren’t developed enough. We have Nicole Kidman, for example, and she’s never quite fully explained, yet by the end of it all she’s promoted to sudden love interest status.
The film just feels like a half-baked draft. We have the perfect duo for the film for better or worse, but the rest of the film feels like a placeholder for a much better film. It’s charming and funny, but it never moves beyond the average. Even the cinematography and the editing feels a little unrefined. Starting in media res, The Upside (and it’s trailers) certainly spoil the journey and the arc of our characters before you even get stuck into the story. It would be more ideal if you haven’t seen any marketing, but that seems like an impossible task.
The downside to this experience, other than the obvious issues with casting, is that while the acting is on point and it’s good to see Hart try to diversify his roles a teeeeeny tiny bit, two good performances does not a good film make. It needs more.
The Upside is that...at least it’s not offensive and it’s not entirely tone deaf...even if we’re talking rich white people who need help and poor black ex-cons trying to turn over a new leaf and make things better for their family...
Oh, wait, I see it now.