Review – The Upside (2019)

“You can have any girl you want. What about this lady with all the Botox? You’re perfect for each other. You can’t move your body and she can’t move her face.”
– Dell Scott

Helping people is good. It’s good for the people you’re helping and it’s good for you as well. That’s the message behind The Upside, a film that’s not only based upon a true story, but is an Americanized remake of The Intouchables, one of the most popular French films in history. History. It’s a film I’ve been wanting to see since I first heard about it, but the history of its distribution is one of annoyance. This film was shipped around to a very small handful of film festivals in 2017, so a lot of people designate it as a 2017 film – but literally it’s biggest viewership is undoubtedly when it went wide in 2019 – so…I see it as a 2019 movie. Sue me.

Because the original film is a very loved film, it’s going to be practically impossible for those that have seen it not to compare the two films. However, given my distaste for dialogue-heavy foreign films, I’m not in that audience, so I won’t be comparing anything today. Instead, I’m going with what my gut tells me about this film – and one of the main things was…I’m not sure they needed star power for a movie like this. Yes, Bryan Cranston is a powerfully talented actor, but he’s not the only one around. Having Cranston, Hart, and Kidman are nice and everything, but I may have been happier with a cast of unknowns in the lead instead, but as it is, it’s totally fine, but the one thing I’m not sensing from this film is a connection to “the most successful French film in history”. Maybe it’s massively different, I don’t know, but it just feels like an average film to me.

THE UPSIDE is director Neil Burger’s heartfelt comedy about a recently paroled ex-convict (Kevin Hart) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a paralyzed billionaire (Bryan Cranston). The film also stars Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies and Aja Naomi King.

STX Entertainment

PEOPLE – 65% (13/20)

Acting – ★★★☆ | Characters – ★★★☆ | Casting – ★★☆☆ | Importance – ★★☆☆ | Chemistry – ★★★☆

As mentioned above, I’m not sure choosing A-class Hollywood actors was necessarily the right step. They do fine, sure, but I think they unintentionally also make it feel more like a production than a film about genuine human emotion and friendship. That being said, I believe they each have their moments that make the film feel at least slightly special, but the moments don’t occur as often as maybe the audience would prefer. You see dynamics and mirroring themes among the characters together versus in their individual lives, which helps deepen their roles, you even see some pretty decent acting and moments of chemistry…but none of that ever reaches its full potential. It ultimately never gets to where it should arrive in any of these subcategories, which ends up leaving the viewer only slightly disappointed.

FUN FACT – While watching, the film made me feel sad about Christopher Reeve, since he had to physically go through something similar…but also, the fact that he’s no longer with us and would’ve been PERFECT in the role.

WRITING – 80% (8/10)

Dialogue – ★★ | Balance – ★☆ | Story Depth – ★★ | Originality – ★☆ | Interesting – ★★

I think the general concept is The Upside is a film that focused very deeply on having something well-written. Anything in the film industry should do the same, but when you’re talking about a biographical film, it’s especially important to focus on the writing, and they did. Although it’s subtle, the dialogue is definitely important in the film. Beyond the poetic musings from Cranston’s character, you also have a lot of inner-dialogues going on verbalized through the characters’ actions that drives the narrative. It’s honestly a very meaningful film in more ways than I can really list here, but a big part of it comes to dealing with our own past, coming to terms with life, forgiving yourself, re-purposing your insecurities to something more positive…the list goes on. Being a true story, it obviously doesn’t follow a simple objective narrative, as most films do. It’s rather loose as far as the balance goes, but the friendship does help it stay together. Originality-wise? Yes, it’s a true story, but it’s more than that. At the end of the day, it’s about an unlikely caretaker that learns a lesson about himself along the way – something done a million times before. I mean, it does feel fresh, but that’s all I can say about it.

BTS – 70% (7/10)

Visuals – ★☆ | Cinematography – ★☆ | Editing – ★☆ | Advertising – ★★ | Music & Sound – ★★

You’d almost think while watching the trailers that the film would be Oscar-bait, something often focused on in the BTS-category. Yet, nothing really impresses you in this category. Nothing about the visuals screams great practical or visual effects, costume design, production design, lights or colors. The cinematography itself is FINE, but the most you’ll notice is a general rural feel when it came to following around Kevin Hart, which is fine, but nothing that stands out. I feel like anyone could’ve been the editor. The only thing that was important was a slight focus on the music. Music partially plays important to the plot, which is why I gave that full points.

NARRATIVE ARC – 80% (8/10)

Introduction – ★★ | Inciting Incident – ★★ | Obstacles – ★☆ | Climax – ★★ | Resolution – ★☆

The narrative structure in this film was better than most biographical films like it. It does take the time to introduce you to the main players, their motivations, the general theme of the film, the setting…all of that. The inciting incident is when Kevin Hart is offered the job – the crossing of the threshold is when he accepts it. There aren’t any real obstacles, since there isn’t MUCH of a character goal going on for Hart’s character other than to generally make money. That’s it. There is a pretty decent culmination of events towards the end that you can easily call the climax, and the resolution is…fine. It only has one of the two requirements for a perfect resolution, but I digress.

ENTERTAINMENT – 40% (4/10)

Rewatchability – ★☆ | Fun Experience – ★★ | Impulse to Buy or Own it – ☆☆ | Impulse to Talk About or Recommend It – ☆☆ | Riveting – ★☆

As I said before, I don’t think the film feels magical enough to feel special. It mostly just feels like another movie. Whether or not that’s a good thing is completely up to you, but I expected more. As far as being rewatchable – I’d watch it again someday, but not soon. I did generally have a good time while watching the film, so the Fun subcategory gets full points. I have zero impulses to buy it, own it, talk about it, or recommend it. None at all, so those all get no points. There is enough happening in the film, however, that you feel as if you MAY miss something important if you leave the room for too long, to use the bathroom, for example. It doesn’t feel like you can’t blink, but it’s riveting enough.

SPECIALTY – 75% (30/40)

  • Biopic – ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
    • So, we’re talking about a biographical tale, and for that, I like to learn something about another human being and ultimately feel as if it was a story that deserved to be told. I would say I kind of learned something about these characters, but because it essentially just feels like another movie, I didn’t immediately think it felt like a movie that needed to be made.
  • Dramedy – ★★★★★★★★★★
    • Dramedy = Comedy/Drama. More than that, it often means something that feels heartwarming, like a feel-good film, and for the most part, you do feel good while watching it. Kids will be bored, but parents and adults will be able to understand and appreciate the messages in the film.
  • Actor-Specific – ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
    • Usually, I have an actor-specific subcategory, but I’m usually more specific on who. I’m not here, because I generally wanted to see how this worked as a Bryan Cranston film just as much as I did for a Kevin Hart film…the answer is the same – it’s decent, but it’s nothing you are going to remember forever. For Hart, I wanted something similar to Stranger Than Fiction, but in the end, it just never reached that level.
  • Halfway Decent – ★★★★★★★★★★
    • Even being just a typical film, I still think the filmmaker ultimately made the movie he set out to make from the get go, so that deserves credit.

The Upside
TOTAL SCORE – 70%
(70/100 possible stars)

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