Some movies serve as inspiring reminders to appreciate your life, and do the best that you can with what God has handed to you. The terrific and touching new movie “The Upside” makes a strong case for those lessons, while kicking off the cinematic new year in highly entertaining fashion. 

The film follows an African-American man named Dell (Kevin Hart), who has always sweet-talked his way through life and shirked true responsibility, including paying child support for his preteen son. When his probation officer tells him he has to find three signatures from prospective employers proving that he is looking for work within the next 24 hours or go back to prison, Dell scrambles, and stumbles into the penthouse apartment of a paralyzed millionaire named Philip (Bryan Cranston).

Philip and his assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) are trying to find a new caretaker, and the millionaire takes an instant interest in the streetwise Dell because of his take-no-prisoners attitude and sass. Philip has been depressed since an accident paralyzed him and killed his wife, and even has orders to not be resuscitated if he chokes, but Dell is determined to help him regain his zest for living. In return, Philip teaches Dell to set higher goals and standards for himself, encouraging him to build a relationship with his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his teenage son.

As Dell takes the job and moves into the penthouse, earning the biggest paychecks of his life, he quickly becomes more responsible and a better man. But when Dell tries to convince Philip to meet a mysterious woman with whom he has a longstanding and long-distance romantic correspondence via letters, things go awry, and the two men find that trying to improve and change one’s life can be far more complicated than expected.

Based on the 2011 smash-hit French movie “The Intouchables,” which in turn was based on a real-life friendship between two Parisian men, “The Upside” nonetheless stands on its own merits as a vibrant movie with many positive life lessons. Each of the two leading men have universally relatable issues that audience members will surely find extremely affecting.

Hart delivers his deepest, most nuanced performance to date in a role that bounces between drama and comedy repeatedly throughout the movie. It seems that sooner or later, every major star comedian wants to prove that they can be serious artists as well, and “The Upside” gives him many opportunities to shine, after hysterically screaming and whining his way through dozens of films.

Cranston pulls off the remarkable feat of delivering a powerful performance using only his face, due to his character’s paralysis. And Kidman provides sweet support as the woman who quietly ensures that Philip’s life is running as best it can, yet is wary of Dell’s boisterous presence in her boss’s life.

“The Upside” is a beautifully told story about the impact that people can make in each other’s lives, and a life-affirming tale of a man learning to regain his spirit after tragic circumstances. It is filled with kindness, and yet is also very funny in many scenes, as Hart and Cranston establish a terrific chemistry together.

The only real reason for its PG-13 rating are two scenes in which Hart and Cranston smoke marijuana that Hart buys off a street dealer, and get high in comical fashion. But Hart supplies it as a means of helping Cranston take his mind off the incredible depression he has suffered since losing his wife and motor skills. Otherwise, the film has very little foul language or profanities and is an outstanding film for adults and teenagers as well. 

Filled with life-affirming messages delivered in a mostly clean movie, “The Upside” should be a favorite for many.

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