Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is a man out of options, but one who hasn’t quite grasped the true depth of his situation. He’s broke, homeless and divorced, and he’s now a neglectful father and a freshly paroled ex-con without a job. When his tired charms fail to hoodwink his parole officer, Dell takes the only path presented to him — a curious job as a live-in caregiver. His new boss Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a fabulously wealthy writer who suffered a tragic injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down and in need of constant care. The big mystery is why Phillip would want Dell for the job at all. The only person whom Dell has ever taken care of is Dell, and he hasn’t exactly excelled in that role to date — a reality continually harped on by Phillip’s business assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).
This improbable partnership may seem ill-fated, but it just may be the perfect prescription for both men.
This is a remake of the beloved 2011 French film The Intouchables, which itself was based on the memoir of one of its main characters. So, yes, this is based on a true story, but it’s now one step further away from its origin about a French quadriplegic and his French-Algerian caregiver.
That Hollywood would choose to remake that film is doubly surprising. First, the original version was so well done that it seems almost sacrilegious to risk dulling its brilliance. I’m still trying to forget the Vince Vaughn disaster Delivery Man — an entirely forgettable, regrettable and unnecessary remake of 2011’s amazing film Starbuck. Second, we live in an era that’s extremely sensitive to plots of this type where it appears that a black man can only find his way with the help of a willing white man. This exact argument is still being debated with respect to 2018’s Green Book. Even the original film raised similar concerns. Is this film racist? I don’t think so. The story is about two men, both on the rebound from deep setbacks and neither a stranger to humiliation. Each is able to see the world in a new way because of the other’s unique perspective. Both characters gain equally from their experience. Dell’s character is the one with whom we connect the most and the one who experiences the deepest character development.
The Upside is not quite on par with The Intouchables, but it’s still surprisingly effective in its own right. Hart and Cranston are flawlessly cast, and I’d love to see more of their chemistry. Yes, the plot is full of clichés, but they work here. The one-liners — mainly from Hart, but not entirely — hit the funny bone every time. Its more touching moments feel genuine and sneak up on us when we least expect. It’s a lighthearted appetizer that deftly entices us into a surprisingly meaty entree, leaving us fulfilled and smiling.