Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart fantastic in “The Upside” (column)
Rated: PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use.
Screenplay by: Jon Hartmere.
Based on: The motion picture “Les Intouchables” by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache.
Directed by: Neil Burger.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Julianna Margulies, Golshifteh Farahani, Tate Donovan and more.
Grade: Three stars.
We all need a little cinematic warmth to help ease the chill of January.
“The Upside,” starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, turns out to be just what the movie critic ordered. A warm-hearted buddy dramedy that never tips over into sentimentality, “The Upside” is the perfect movie for anyone who wants to feel some hope in the world but can’t stand Hallmark- or Lifetime-style schmaltz. With an excellent performance by Cranston and a surprisingly nuanced turn by Hart, it’s a definite bright spot in a month that’s normally dismal for movies.
Based on a true story, the movie follows the perspective of Dell (Hart), an ex-con who needs to find a job both to maintain his parole and finally catch up on his child-support payments. He accidentally ends up in an interview to be the full-time aid for Phillip (Cranston), a wealthy man with quadriplegia who is looking forward to dying. Phillip offers the job to Dell against his assistant’s strong protests, and Dell accepts the job even though he’s in no way qualified for it. What starts out as an unmitigated disaster turns into a friendship that ends up changing both men’s lives.
Adapted from the French film “Les Intouchables,” the movie gleefully pokes holes in every trope there is involving “brave, saintly invalids” or “noble ex-cons redeeming themselves.” Both men are incredibly stubborn and self-involved, have no trouble being rude and have hurt people in their lives through their behavior. They’re also intelligent, surprisingly funny, take no crap from anyone and it’s delightful to watch the two develop a genuine friendship while deeply annoying nearly everyone around them.
It’s also flat-out hilarious. Even the trailers can’t manage to spoil some of the movie’s best jokes since they unfold along with the scene to become funnier and funnier with every moment. A scene surrounding a catheter is a treat from beginning to end, and a set of scenes about a dog-themed painting depend entirely on seeing the rest of the movie to appreciate their full hilarity.
However, the movie certainly doesn’t shy away from seriousness. Phillip struggles constantly with people not seeing him as a person, and also with people being too overwhelmed with his disability to see him as a person. Dell’s own father spent most of his life in prison, and the criminal life he’s trying so hard to stay away from is still lurking around every corner of both his and his son’s lives. “The Upside” doesn’t shy away from any of this darkness, their issues serving as both a bridge and canyon between the two men.
Cranston is just as delightful as you might expect, imbuing his character both with deep-seated anger and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. The real surprise, however, is Hart, who digs a lot deeper than his usual film roles and makes Dell feel real. Humor is clearly both a weapon and a shield for him, but Hart makes sure it’s merely a part of the complete picture.
Together, they’re wonderful company. Just what you need to make January a little easier.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.