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The Upside is an American remake of the 2011 foreign critical and financial hit The Intouchables, which with full disclosure: I haven’t seen. Beyond that, the original and this new version are based on the true story of the blooming relationship between (with several name changes) Phillippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caregiver Abdel Sellou. Years in the making, and based on a remarkable true story of strength in depression, it’s time to see how The Upside turned out...
Neil Burger has never struck me as a creatively great director, as he’s had any missed opportunities in his career, including the likes of Limitless and Divergent. So when he came on as director of The Upside, it built a bit of worriment in my mind as to how great the entire picture would become. Luckily, The Upside has become one of Burger’s strongest triumphs to date, and that’s partially because of source material, aka the original film, to reflect on. The film has a unique style that holds a bit of darkness to the overall tone, making it realistic but not darkly so. The driving scenes and intense moments of emotional release are all beautifully captured in Burger’s direction, along with some brilliant performances to cap off the scenes. Although please note that the opening sequence of the film is not an overall reflection of it, as it’s a scene further along in the main characters relationship and bond. The use of camera angles adds a whole new element to the film, delivering movement with the chair and up in the air on a glider that give a feeling of how the person in that situation is feeling, whether it be exhilarating or horrifying - many of these shots are used most effectively on Phillip’s chair.
The Upside is fueled by its light hearted humor throughout its somber theme. After a dim beginning for the duo, the story becomes heartwarming to watch unfold as their bond becomes greater and greater by the film’s conclusion. Even when things begin falling away, their friendship never fully departs and is wonderfully shown through the story’s steady incline to the film’s more dramatic scenes. I’d like to make note of a specific scene near the film’s beginning in which Dell (Hart) steals a belonging of his soon to be employer that immediately becomes problematic to the viewer as it looms over your head until it is resolved later in the film - luckily this isn’t a cause for concern of plot spoilage because the way it is executed is surprisingly harmless. The script is finely written and provides a great build up to a finale that can’t help but put a smile on your face when the credits begin to role.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I’ll be honest, I was worried about Kevin Hart as he’s primarily a comedic actor, and his transition to dramatic storytelling seemed like something to be concerned with. At first I wasn’t sure if he was going to make the proper transition, as his character Dell is full of numbing humor and altogether isn’t a good person, but after a while he really becomes the character. His dramatic acting isn’t the most nuanced, but it works in the film and is assisted by his blooming relationship with the always fantastic Bryan Cranston as Phillip. Cranston, who has reinfigurated his career after the astounding success of Breaking Bad, brings his all to his portrayal of the real man, and his holding in of emotions throughout. Cranston is astounding in a scene prominently featured in the trailer where he is irritated and confronted by Dell, only to release every ounce of emotion he’s been keeping inside in one dramatic triumph of Cranston’s acting put on full display. Nicole Kidman is along for the ride as Phillip’s associate who has a soft spot for the man but similar to him, keeps her emotions inside for a professional relationship. Her interactions with Dell are mainly full of awkward arguments and jokes that fail entirely, making every scene the two share unpleasant to sit through - but luckily, they’re extremely rare. All the remaining minor characters give worthwhile performances, yet none that stand out enough for any individual shoutouts.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Certain people may say that the score is made to emotionally manipulate you into feeling one way or the other, and while it has the effect to persuade you like that, it’s enormously beneficial in my eyes. There’s nothing wrong with a film trying it’s hardest make the audience happy, and when it’s a true to life story such as this, it’s hard to fault it for attempting to make us feel the way they felt during those times together. The score, along with Opera scenes and a few Aretha Franklin tracks, adds a lot of audible pluses to the overall picture. The sound design is wonderful, successfully making us feel like the car is the salvation during the curious opening shot, with no surrounding noises; just the car revving its engine as it proceeds to drive faster and faster, aside from the score traveling along with them during this moment. The outside air and the isolation of everyone when it’s necessary provide the audible note that no one is paying attention to what Phillip’s desires are. It’s a lighter score that easily leviates the darker theme to a much more audience pleasing destination, which may work well for some and annoy others, but for this sap, I loved it entirely.
As far as effects go, The Upside is primarily practical with sets and real locations for shooting. There are a few scenes that may have taken the liberty of adding some digital effects, however these scenes are not even distinguishable enough to realize if there is or isn’t additional effects added to the film, so I’d say that’s a win in The Upside’s favor. I thoroughly enjoyed the representation of the penthouse that Phillip lives versus the small apartment Dell’s exe and son live, which portrays the different wealth ranges. Cranston is getting a lot of complaints for his casting as a disabled man, as he himself is not, however that is what actors do, and his visual performance is exactly as it should be. Ultimately, a visually pleasing film, but not shockingly captivating.
The Upside is an uplifting true story that features a disabled man seeking a way to end his life, and the best way to do so is by hiring an unqualified caretaker to watch over him. Surprisingly, this twisted premse somehow becomes genuinely charming and funny. Without the fantastic actors having the amazing chemistry that they do, it’s hard to say if this tough topic would have created a film to see. Fortunately as the film progresses, we move out of darkness and into the light, and even through some rough patches, the bright side winds up shining through - such is life. It’s the first true surprise of the year thus far and is a remake that will certainly please those who haven’t seen nor heard of the original iteration, because as it stands this film is considerably endearing.