The Upside (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

The Upside (2018) is a film that could easily be overlooked on first viewing of the trailer. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have been hit-or-miss when it comes to their big screen choices, so them doing this remake (which is based on a true story) had me skeptical. On the bright side, the film was quite enjoyable, eliciting many laughs from the audience and myself during the screening I attended, even stirring up some real emotions at other times. There are mostly only upsides to this film, but not everything worked.

The Upside was funny, charming, and worth the watch

Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is struggling to find solid employment after getting out of prison, and his probation officer is requiring him to get the assigned amount of signatures before he violates. He ends up accidentally interviewing to be a life auxiliary for Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranson), who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of an accident. While totally underqualified for the position, Phillip gives Dell the position and the second chance he so sorely needed.

Hart’s comedic styling doesn’t always click with my tastes. Even more, I don’t recall seeing him in a more dramatic role prior to this film. I was impressed by the amount of empathy he was able to build for his character and the struggles Dell finds himself in. There is a solid redemption arc embedded in this story that Hart’s performance makes believable and really enjoyable.

Cranston’s got his work cut out for him as his character is unable to move from the neck down, leaving most of his performance to simply being facial expressions. In some ways, this seems to be a benefit, as Cranston can go a bit big in his performances – thus the inability to move more than his face keeps him a bit more subtle. The chemistry between Hart and Cranston is crucial to selling the friendship between the two characters. Mostly, it’s strong – and one of the best moments is when Dell takes Phillip out at night to smoke marijuana, which results in a fun trip to a hotdog stand.

Unfortunately, there are a few scenes that feel too melodramatic and offer little to the characters’ development. Each scene is a fight between Dell and Phillip – which is believable in many ways – but the dialogue in these exchanges just feels inorganic. They were the lesser part of the film, as so many of the positive interactions felt natural and grounded…but the conflict never truly does.

Final thoughts…

Despite the few scenes that didn’t quite work, the majority of the film does. Nicole Kidman gets some solid time as does Golshifteh Farahani. The redemption arc for Dell centers around his relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Aja Naomi King) and their son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), and these scenes mostly work. If you are in the mood for a comedy that will also strum the heartstrings, The Upside is worthy of your time and earns a Decent Watch rating.

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