“The Upside” is another unlikely friendship cinematic tale that stars Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and the still gorgeous Nicole Kidman. Some fellow named Jon Hartmere, whom I have never heard of, wrote the screenplay which was then directed by Neil Burger. The film is based on a true story, so it says. It is probably more accurate to tag it as being inspired by a true story. There is a French film with this premise called “The Intouchables” that was released in 2011, that I suspect is probably more true to the actual events it is depicts.
Kevin Hart plays this parolee in need of a job lands an unexpectedly lucrative position as a caregiver to a paraplegic billionaire. Dell Scott is a typical Kevin Hart role in which he is a down on his luck, streetwise black man who is sharper than he thinks. It’s kind of thing we have seen from Hart numerous times. Hart is actually quite good here, but there isn’t enough separation from pervious roles to feel that his dramatic moments are that unique.
Cranston manages to remain pretty compelling as the paralyzed billionaire, although there is not much here that has not been seen before in other films of this sort. Cranston is usually likeable but with a bit more range.
I found this film to be a little frustrating at times even though I would say I ended up liking it. I am sure that readers of this blog may find my assessment just as frustrating, but I will try to be more clear. There is a lot that works fairly well, usually due to the charisma and talent of the cast. I do include Hart as being one of those with talent and charisma. I just wish he could surprise me with some range and variety. It just seems more like the same Kevin Hart antics and sass.
I do want to say that Kidman is not normally seen in a supporting role such as this, however she really does make the most of it. She had a character which could be seen as the typical stern assistant with a proverbial stick up her backside, however her character of Yvonne thankfully was written with considerably more depth and ended up having her own moments where she could be charming and consequential. Having Kidman in the cast did nothing but help in this case.
There were a few incidental surprises, but not that many. I also get tired of this business of starting the movie with a flash forward sequence and then the bulk of the piece having to catch up to that moment. I feel that it is getting a little overused and some how diminishes the sense of suspense and surprise.
There also seemed to be some missed opportunities to leave a more unique impression on the audience. It still stayed with the formula with having two very different characters meet, have some friction, come to an understanding, and then have to resolve some major rift between them in the third act of the story.
Also, I am getting tired of the Hollywood solution to relaxing or finding some ways to release tension of heading out to get hands on the nearest joint. The constant prodding or suggestion from Hollywood that getting stoned is the best way to just relax or cope with disappointment and heartache is really gotten quite stale with me.
Another point that I found irritating is that Dell’s parole officer is threatening to send him back to prison if he cannot secure employment or verify his efforts to find employment. I actually do similar work in my daily life. It ain’t that easy to send someone to prison or back to prison over employment snafus. I am sure New York faces the same issues with prison overcrowding as Texas. These writers need to do a little better research in how pieces of the criminal justice system actually works. The parole officer would probably have some knowledge and suggestions on where an ex-con is likely going to find work given his circumstances.
Okay, now that I got a few things off my chest, I will say again that much of this film still works fairly well, but I can also see some problems with it. The performances are convincing enough for the most part even though Kevin Hart still does Kevin Hart. He does seem to be an unlikely but somehow appropriate fit with his castmates. There are some well-acted moments and interesting exchanges between characters. Hart and Cranston really do seem to be having fun playing off each other, so the friendship between their characters is not quite impossible to believe. The other supporting characters were pretty good. No one really missed the mark. Julianna Margulies has a small but crucial part in this film and handles it well. She’s pretty good anyway, so that’s not surprising.
I think fans of the various actors won’t find anything too disappointing. I still enjoyed the film for the most part in spite of some ways that I think it could have been better.