I am torn on whether or not I actually like Kevin Hart. That may seem like an odd way to start a review, but go with me on this. Putting aside the recent furore over past tweets, and judging plainly on his film performances, you can’t really say he’s anything special, he certainly has charm, but has never shown any signs of real growth in his performances, so upon seeing the trailer for this film, it made me think that this might be the film where he flourishes in a more dramatic setting.
While this is a point for debate, I did think the film looked like an interesting choice for Hart, and Bryan Cranston, his co-star, whose acting talent is never in question, to take on this remake of a popular French film, which has flown comparatively under the radar recently, bar a few news stories on the ethics of Cranston playing a quadriplegic, which isn’t a topic for discussion here, I’m just here to review the film, so here we go.
Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) is a quadriplegic billionaire who is understandably tired of life, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with ex-con Dell Scott (Hart) who is hired as his unlikely carer, through unorthodox means, Dell helps Phillip find the joy in life once more, as both of their lives improve.
While I surmised in my earlier paragraphs that this might have been Hart’s dramatic breakthrough, I wasn’t entirely accurate. While it has dramatic moments, it is heavily entrenched in its comedic settings, rarely embracing its flair for the dramatic.
There is a fair amount of chemistry between Hart and Cranston, enough to make the film an enjoyable watch, but it doesn’t feel like we’re getting the full effect of either of them. Hart’s usual antics are toned down, but still evident, I can see a glimmer of potential for the dramatic in him however, should he be willing to embrace it. He’s certainly not lacking in charisma and magnetism, especially in this film, Dell comes across as likeable, but highly flawed, a conclusion we’re naturally brought to given his status at the start of the film.
Whilst it is an enjoyable enough watch, and the two leads bring what they can to the table, it is still quite an insubstantial film, frequently missing opportunities for dramatic tension in favour of more outwardly comedic moments, if that’s what they were going for that’s fine, but it seems given the subject matter, there were ample opportunities to take the film down a more serious path that are missed.
One particular incident springs to mind when thinking about this, and its somewhere in the middle of the film, when Phillip and Dell go for a hot dog, and Dell speaks up to the cashier who ignores Phillip, and instead asks Dell what Phillip wants. Right there is an ideal message to drive the film, one that is sorely lacking in Hollywood, but it’s never really brought up again, and we’re back to comedy antics right afterwards, I think that’s the biggest disappointment, knowing the the potential was there for something more, but the opportunity was missed and they just made a bland, but fairly enjoyable, comedy.
For all of its flaws, there are parts I enjoyed about the film, Dell has a nicely paced arc, even if there are elements of his character that contradicts itself. I actually felt that Hart was better during the few dramatic moments than in the comedy moments, even if that is somewhat out of his wheelhouse.
In the end though, while it isn’t particularly memorable, and I probably won’t watch it again, there are enough elements of The Upside that are enjoyable to make it worthwhile, even though it is disappointing that an opportunity for something more complex was passed up, which I think will be my prevailing memory of it when I look back, perhaps unfairly, but when a chance for a film to convey a more important message is missed, I feel that that is the important factor to take away, no matter how enjoyable the end product.