Starring: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman
Director: Neil Burger
Running Time: 125 mins
The Upside is an American film about a man searching for work after his parole who is hired by a wealthy quadriplegic to be his live-in ‘life auxiliary’. Despite their socio-economic differences, the two grow close, and develop an unlikely friendship that changes both of their lives.
Hollywood remakes of great foreign films often catch a lot of flack for being ‘unnecessary’ or ‘patronising’, and while The Upside was hardly the best-received remake of legendary French comedy-drama The Intouchables, I really enjoyed it. Recapturing the uplifting spirit of the French original, The Upside features heartwarming drama and likable comedy, and although some of its reworking of the original story does lead it down a more simplistic path, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable and ultimately touching watch.
If we quickly take The Upside as a film entirely of its own – without knowing The Intouchables ever existed – then I don’t think it would be subject to such scrutiny and criticism. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have flaws, but as far as the story goes, it’s difficult not to be moved by what is a truly wonderful tale of friendship and self-discovery, taking a beautifully tender yet equally energetic look at the unlikely bond from two men from entirely opposing sides of society.
Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston are great together, with Hart providing some great laughs alongside a really likable, down-to-earth performance, and Cranston impressing hugely with a thoroughly endearing performance that still features real gravitas, allowing you to sympathise with some of the less apparent struggles he meets in daily life.
Their chemistry and the energy of their friendship forms a hugely likable bedrock for the film, and although The Upside doesn’t quite grapple with socio-economic differences in quite as striking or thoughtful a manner as The Intouchables, it does make for two hours of uplifting and emotionally tender drama alongside some brilliantly entertaining comedy, as we follow the two men discovering entirely new sides to themselves and each other, exploring the world in a way they never had the opportunity to before they first met.
In terms of how The Upside really differs from its French predecessor for the better, I found this an easier, more relaxing and often funnier watch. The Intouchables has some brilliant laughs, and Omar Sy’s performance is unforgettably hilarious at times, but there was something about The Upside that, with a slightly more light-hearted take on the same story, allowed me to laugh out loud on a more regular basis, something that’s made all the better by those two fantastic lead performances.
Where the film falls down is in some of the ways that it reworks the original story. In general, The Upside is a straight remake of The Intouchables, with some scenes being carbon copies of the original, and the core themes being equally similar throughout.
However, there are times in this film where the story takes what can only be described as a more simplistic, and often unfortunately generic and even patronising direction. It’s symptomatic of Hollywood remakes – ironing out some more complex and difficult storytelling bumps in exchange for something that doesn’t quite have the same originality – and it does show at times here, particularly in the final act.
The story that The Upside does come up with isn’t all too bad, and with the exception of a couple of painfully cheesy and rather unearned moments of drama late on, it’s still an enjoyable and touching watch right to the finish, albeit not quite on the level of its predecessor. So, if you’ve seen the original and really adore it, then be warned that this remake isn’t always as faithful or successful as you might hope it to be.
Saying that, I still really liked The Upside. An uplifting, enjoyable and often touching film, it’s both a relaxed and light-hearted watch as well as one that features intriguing and powerful drama, made all the better by some great humour and two fantastic lead performances. It’s not quite as spectacular as The Intouchables, and it doesn’t quite succeed in some of its reworking of the original story, but that doesn’t take away from how enjoyable and uplifting a film it is, and that’s why I’m giving The Upside a 7.7 overall.