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You’re waterboarding me.

Movie

The Upside
(2017)

 

The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The BirdcageThree Men and a BabyTrue Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine MonthsSommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

Or even merely passable prospects that probably didn’t justify the outlay like My Father, the Hero. Or Cousins. Or Blame it on Rio. Or Jungle 2 Jungle. Or The Mirror Has Two Faces. Or The Next Three Days. Or Three Fugitives. Or Taxi. Or The Tourist (a hit by most standards, but then you look at the budget). Or Dinner for Schmucks, an example that did decent business in the US but very little internationally. The original of that one had already been a sizeable hit with those not put off by subtitles (or who are multilingual), however.

So too The Upside, which may, in part, be reflected in Amazon’s decision to acquire international SVOD rights and rapidly get it out there. Intouchables made a mammoth $427m in 2011 ($10m of which came from the US) – outside of China, and The Passion of the Christ, that’s about as stratospheric as it gets for non-English language films.

At home, however, The Upside proved a – perhaps surprise is too strong a word since Kevin Hart definitely has his fan base – hit at the beginning of the year (it was first shown at film festivals sixteen months earlier, hence the official release year above). STX acquired distribution from The Weinstein Company (bought out by Lantern Entertainment) after Harvey became the most disgraced face of #MeToo. The picture had already undergone a lengthy development, taking in directors Paul Feig, Tom Shadyac and Simon Curtis and such leads as Chrises Rock and Tucker, Jamie Foxx and Colin Firth. Before, bizarrely, director Neil Burger alighted on it. I say bizarre, but I still have Burger’s The Illusionist in mind with regard to his potential, rather than Divergent.

But bizarrely because – and this may be why it’s taken me three paragraphs to get round to it – The Upside is very basic, button-pressing, aspirational fare ideally suited to nuance-free Hollywood; such accessibility is why the original went down so well. You have issues of race, class and disability thrown together in one sentimental and aspirational package, tied with a requisite bow, with just enough lip service to the harsh realities raised (but no graphic catheter replacements sighted) to lend the illusion, for those after that, that it isn’t completely toothless.

We’ve seen variations of this sort of odd-couple material many times before, with a gruff elder thawed out by a looser junior, both learning something from the other and coming out the other side as better people. Scent of a Woman springs to mind.

There’s no new spin on that in The Upside. What it has going for it is that, even in a movie reaching for such low-hanging fruit, a fine actor like Bryan Cranston (as quadriplegic millionaire Philip Lacassse) can only make it seem more respectable. And Hart (as Dell Scott, needing a job and just irreverent and incapable enough for Lacasse to pick him as carer, as the latter wants a permanent way out of his predicament), dipping his toe in dramatic waters, acquits himself agreeably. It helps that the pair have great chemistry; when Cranston cracks up at Hart, it’s infectiously genuine.

Unfortunately, every single dramatic and emotional beat smacks of cliché; Lacasse is grieving and tentatively exploring other relationships (Julianna Margulies), but the one who truly cares for him (Nicole Kidman) is right under his nose. Dell is a failing in his duties as a father and an ex, an ex-con lacking any direction in his life, all of which Lacasse can help with. Oh, and most excruciatingly, also provide him an appreciation for opera.

There’s an amusing scene where Lacasse convinces Tate Donovan’s snobby neighbour to buy Dell’s terrible art, but if there’s any take away from The Upside, it’s that even amid the suffocating grip of superhero movies and inspiration-bereft sequels, audiences will still take to more basic, emotionally-salving formula vehicles of this ilk. The Upside could easily have been made by Touchstone in the ’80s.

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