Review: The Upside

THE UPSIDE was previously reviewed as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage. Note: the review was filed before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public and the film is no longer owned by The Weinstein Company. 

PLOT: An unemployed ex-con (Kevin Hart), wanting to get back into his son and ex’s life, bluffs his way into a position as a suicidal quadriplegic multi-millionaire’s (Bryan Cranston) live-in caregiver. Initially at odds, the two gradually form a strong bond, becoming unlikely friends.

REVIEW: Neil Burger’s THE UPSIDE is a close remake of the French mega-hit INTOUCHABLES. Following most of the same beats, Burger’s film, which had long-been a Harvey Weinstein passion project (note – a fact the new distributors will no doubt want to play down – notice how little press the stars are doing), is nonetheless skillfully translated to America. Doing away with the somewhat paternalistic, and perhaps racially insensitive (if well intentioned) undertones of the original, THE UPSIDE should be well-received by a diverse audience. TWC has gone on record saying that, despite contractual conflicts with the makers of JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, who (logically) don’t want a competing Kevin Hart project in theaters this Christmas, THE UPSIDE will get a qualifying run in hope of some awards momentum (note – all of which never happened – for obvious reasons). 

Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, both contribute strong performances. Their chemistry is excellent, probably better than the French stars of the original, with it actually quite believable here that Hart and Cranston could become friends. This is partially because Hart plays this without ever resorting to shtick. While still funny, his ex-con is unique in his filmography. Far from being as clean-cut as his family image suggests, his character is shown to be an ex-con/deadbeat dad, who’s trying to own-up to his past mistakes in an authentic way. Hart’s never been this good, and shows genuine promise as a dramatic actor.

Of the two, Cranston’s performance, which is excellent, comes as less of a surprise. When is he not great? He plays his quadriplegic mogul with the right balance of self-pity, mixed with a genuine good nature, and a bit of a reckless streak, explaining how he wound up in such a state in the first place. What’s interesting about their dynamic, according to reports out of the festival, is that Cranston improvised a bit, with Hart sticking to the script as much as he could, when you’d assume the opposite. Whatever the case, it results in an interesting push-pull dynamic that makes THE UPSIDE a lot more interesting than it would have been more conventionally cast.

Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman is on-board as Cranston’s number two at his company, a role beefed up a lot from the original. Arguably the most mature character of the three, she plays off both Cranston and Hart quite well, even if it doesn’t quite have enough meat to it to make her a solid best supporting actress contender – although who knows?

Fans of the original INTOUCHABLES should be pleased with the way the story’s been transferred Stateside, with it even improving upon the original in some ways. Likewise, those with nothing to compare it to should love it, with it playing to a gangbusters audience reaction at TIFF. 

NOTE- once again, please note this review was written in September 2017, before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public. Also note this was written long before Hart's Oscar controversy. 

Review: The Upside




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.