The notion of bringing happiness out of suffering is not always an agreeable one in Hollywood. How many films instead propose health, wealth, and romantic love as the best places to find satisfaction?
The new movie “The Upside” (in theaters Jan. 11) employs an unlikely duo of lead actors to make a strong case for that first idea, while managing to kick 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’s take-no-prisoners attitude. 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 life.
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 movie that proposes worthwhile 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 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 employer’s life.
The film’s lead actors see the film as a humorous but life-affirming tribute to the under-appreciated work of caretakers.
“The caregiver is the most underrated person in this scenario, and that’s what I was drawing on,” said Cranston, speaking alongside Hart in a roundtable Q&A session in December.
“You can’t help but feel privileged if you have the use of your limbs. I hope that our audience hopefully will have a great experience — laugh and shed a few tears, feel good about it and perhaps feel blessed in what they have. Our society could use some good news these days, that has some upside.”
Hart agreed, adding that making the movie helped him recognize the “craft” that caretakers practice to make their patients’ lives more fulfilling.
“The one thing that comes up is that the caretaker is the first voice or face that the client sees every day,” said Hart.
“They get you dressed, shaved, feed you, and it’s so amazing to see a person give their time and energy day to day to make sure that a person going through such a serious issue has a smile on their face, and give a respect level to them.”
Hart said the movie seeks to portray that experience correctly, rather than “sugarcoat” it.
The movie’s PG-13 rating is earned by two scenes in which Hart and Cranston smoke marijuana bought off a street dealer as a means to escape. Otherwise, the film has very little foul language or profanities and is an outstanding film for adults and teenagers as well.
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