In light of the recent events regarding Kevin Hart’s lousy history of homophobia and homophobic comments, walking into The Upside was a bit of a challenge. How does one impart a sense of impartiality when there’s that much baggage lying around the current landscape? How does one separate the art from the artist? Should one? Valid questions. Important questions.
Questions that in this case ultimately don’t matter. Because The Upside fucking sucks.
Let me back up. The Upside is essentially the American adaptation of the French film Intouchables (reviewed here by Dustin back in 2012), which itself is based on the life of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his friend/caregiver Abdel Sellou. In this incarnation, Bryan Cranston stars as Phillip, a wealthy businessman and author who is paralyzed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. On the verge of giving up on life, he hires what he believes to be the least qualified caregiver he could find, Kevin Hart’s Dell, who stumbled into the gig essentially by accident. The film also inexplicably stars Nicole Kidman as Phil’s skeptical, uptight business manager Yvonne (seriously, Kidman should kick her agent down a flight of stairs for this bullshit role). What happens next is exactly what you think it will happen. They’re from different worlds. They don’t understand each other. They grow fond of each other. There’s a crisis that divides them, and then they’re brought back together. The end.
That really is the end, too. The Upside is so insubstantial, so insignificant that it’s barely even a movie. It’s like a spec script that no one bothered to flesh out. No, less than that — it’s not even the blueprint of a film, it’s a piece of graph paper with a child’s scribble on it. There are so many opportunities for meaningful commentary - Hart’s Dell is a black ex-con with an ex-wife and a smart kid living in shitty public housing, Phil is an opulently wealthy man with everything he could need except for his body. But there’s nothing that’s explored any more deeply than that single sentence. There’s no real examination of the racial or class differences between them, no real conversation about the challenges ex-cons face finding work other than “it’s hard.” Dell introduces Phil to marijuana as a pain management method, but there’s no discussion of that in any real sense either. Phil has been corresponding with a woman and when their meetup ultimately flounders, he spirals into depression. But there’s no examination of either party, no sense of humanity to it. And then, there’s no real reason for resolution. There’s never any sense that anything in this incredibly difficult, presumably complex relationship is actually challenging. Instead, it’s a facile, lumbering attempt at emotional manipulation and it even fails at that.
Stories like this are supposed to be easy money in Hollywood. Throw a couple of softballs out there, make even the barest human connection, pull the emotional rug out and you’ll have folks in shallow, empathetic tears. But I watched this over-long two-hour mess and felt nothing. When the film shoots for its often jarringly mistimed comedic hijinks, it becomes even worse. Nothing is going to make you cringe more than the scene where Hart refuses to change a catheter because he doesn’t want to touch another man’s penis — and in fact, gets grossed out just by Cranston saying penis. Jesus Christ, in light of Hart’s recent fuckups, it’s a damn miracle this movie got released at all.
There is no art here. The Upside undertakes no challenges and takes no risks. Instead, it aims for safe and crowd-pleasing, but it’s so utterly goddamn dull that it doesn’t even hit that mark. It’s a lazy, boring, aggravating mess of a movie and every time it comes even close to being genuinely entertaining — and it has its few and far between moments — it immediately invalidates itself in the next frame. It’s rare to find a film so completely rudderless and ineffective, so unwilling to take even the slightest chance. But that’s The Upside — offensively inoffensive (except for the penis scene, when it’s just offensive), an empty celluloid husk that inspires no emotion other than contempt.
Header Image Source: STX Entertainment