The Upside (2017) ***
122’Dir: Neil Berger | Cast: Brian Cranston, Nicole Kidman | Kevin Hart | US Drama |
Neil Berger’s slick big budget remake rides roughshod over some serious themes and its own narrative flaws, but thanks to Brian Cranston at the wheel central role. But after a clunky first act, The Upside does improve, and culminates in an enjoyable drama.
Cranston plays philosophical, philanthropic, paraplegic Philip who has amassed a small fortune the hard way, but is now confined to his glossy Manhattan penthouse due to a hang-gliding accident. But not only is Cranston’s Philip richer and more sassy, he’s also streets ahead in the acting stakes compared to his co-stars Nicole Kidman who plays an obsequious business manager, and Kevin Hart his full-time carer. The Upside is always going to come up and finish second to the original which was the most successful French language film of all time in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Mexico to name a few countries. This was all largely due to the intensively moving way it presented its subject matter.
Phil is mainly depressed because he’s recently lost the love his life and the film opens with the tawdry search for someone to look after him now she’s gone. But when the crass and bungling Dell appears on the scene his bullishness somehow strikes a chord with Phil, even though the ex-con appears entirely unsuitable for the job. It soon emerges that Phil’s made the right choice. Dell’s down to earth attitude (think Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places) and refusal to be politically correct chimes with Philip’s own maverick qualities: the two have great chemistry as fearless, free-thinking individuals, and that’s why they hit it off together in this inspirational drama about friendship, forgiveness and the indomitable human spirit.
The Upside hits some high notes with its breath-taking setting: New York has never looked so majestic in widescreen skyscapes and the glitzy interiors of Phil’s lavish home. The Bronx too looks commanding and this is where predictably we meet Dell’s chuntering girlfriend and his sparky son . And there are some well-choreographed car chases with Dell at the wheel of Phil’s fleet of Ferraris and Porches. There’s humour to be had in the situational nuances: Phil’s po-faced neighbours are lampooned and so are his bathroom facilities (a shower that speaks German). Nicole Kidman is glacially prim and proper as the house manager, and certainly doesn’t convince as Phil’s potential love interest. But we soon realise he’s a true romantic who loves women and being in their company. And he’s started an old-fashioned ‘pen-pal’ courtship into the bargain.
Even though The Upside (and the original French film) is loosely based on a real story, the formulaic narrative leaves nothing to the imagination and very much toes the party line that Dell is a ‘jackass’ who’s taken the easy life of crime, and now suddenly starts admiring classical opera and developing painting skills akin to Jean Michel Basquiat. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) and screenwriter Jon Hartmere have some insightful comments to make and there are a few laughs, but that doesn’t negate the film’s racial undertones, and or the slightly glib treatment of Phil’s infirmities. The Upside slightly manipulates with its charming glibness but Cranston gives things a much needed shot of nuanced dynamism, and this is what ultimately makes The Upside fly. MT
OUT on 12 JANUARY 2019