Courtesy of STX Films
“The Upside” - the latest feel good tearjerker that’s based on a true story - features two commendable (and noteworthy performances). One from “Breaking Bad” superstar Bryan Cranston as Philip Lacasse, a wealthy quadriplegic seeking a live-in life auxiliary and the other from Kevin Hart as Dell Scott the unexpected new employee Phillip hires for the position.
Director Neil Burger’s film - which actually premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, but was later shelved after its original studio, The Weinstein Company, went under after the allegations involving disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein - has plenty to root for despite its Hallmark channel appearance. Based on the international hit “The Intouchables,” the American update relays the same basic principle: two folks who shouldn’t become friends end up changing each other’s life. If you were to say that sounds as cliche as “Green Book” - you wouldn't be wrong. Dell (Hart - showcasing that he can be genuine and funny when he faces honest problems and not screaming every ten seconds) is a recently released con seeking employment before his parole office sends him back to prison.
Trying to find solutions to his problem (all the while mending family ties with his ex-wife and son), Dell accidentally stumbles into the penthouse where Lacasse (Cranston) resides. Lacasse, who was left without any feeling in his body (save for his neck) after a parasailing accident, decides to hire the spunky ex-con without precedent. This irks Phillip’s handler, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), and she puts Dell on a strict three strike policy. He has to bathe, feed, change, and exercise his wheelchair stricken boss, or be thrown onto the streets.
It’s an ultimatum that eventually pays off because Hart and Cranston casting make the film worth investing in (and save it from falling into the depths of bargain bin cinema). Once all the clunky (and cringeworthy) family drama and dramatic backstories get plowed through is where “The Upside” starts to go on the upswing. Although screenwriter Jon Harmere’s necessity to include characters like Carter - (Tate Donovan - in a thankless role) whose only purpose is to serve as an observer who only sees Dell as an ex-con and nothing else - doesn’t do us any favors.
In the end, the relationship that transpires through Burger’s glossy camera work gives the film a much needed edge. And really, “The Upside” is the sum of its good intentions, plus it’s hard to dislike a movie that chooses to celebrate the rich promise of life despite all the suffering and heartbreak we encounter. You won’t find any surprises, but then again at least it tries to establish itself as its own separate body of schmaltzy cinema ready for mass intake.