The Upside has been problematic from the start, although it’s certainly had to endure changing times since filming started in January of 2017. The movie had a decent pedigree as an American remake of a hit French film about a white quadriplegic regaining his love for life after taking in a black ne’er-do-well as his personal caretaker. The upbeat 2011 production took a few jibes for essentially being a Wheeling Mr. Quattroporte, but it didn’t seem crazy for anyone to sign up for a remake.
But then The Upside joined other troubled productions sunk by association with Harvey Weinstein, and things have only gotten more woke from there. Kevin Hart’s success with Jumanji is probably the only thing that saved his latest starring role from premiering on Netflix. That’s kind of a shame. The Upside is certainly directed for the small screen, with any foreign allure tossed out the window for a determinedly sitcom style.
That includes Bryan Cranston as a reliable replacement after Colin Firth dropped out as the second male lead. Weinstein’s once-classy reputation was still able to bring in Nicole Kidman as the prim business associate constantly fretting as Hart’s character moves into the mansion and commences with all kinds of crazy hijinks.
The weird twist is that everyone’s at their best for the occasion. Nicole Kidman’s pearl-clutching is a fine tribute to the Beverly Hillbillies’ Miss Hathaway. Cranston’s proud sitcom past means that he doesn’t need mobility to expertly work a three-camera setup. Hart, meanwhile, grounds his outlandish antics by playing his character as an actual ex-con instead of a moonlighting stand-up comic.
Fans of 2011’s The Intouchables can’t be too outraged over all of this, either. The remake follows the exact structure of the original, and is just as dedicated in plodding though a series of wacky misunderstandings that always return to the status quo of a bad-boy misfit restoring a wryly cynical rich guy’s love for life. There’s even a self-contained Very Special Episode that lets Hart and Cranston shake things up for a while.
But that only means plenty of critics have to blast The Upside – much like Green Book – as a genuine abomination featuring ye olde Magical Negro/White Savior tropes. The real problem is that the sitcom setting wastes some true potential. Cranston’s business mogul only hires Hart’s character as the candidate most likely to accidentally end his life. That could have made for a fine serious drama with touches of dark comedy.
Instead, The Upside finally hits theaters as a genuine oddity. It’ll still have to be a massive success to ever get a sequel. At least the film got one lucky break while sitting on the shelf. The original had Earth, Wind & Fire as the token feel-good funk that frees the brooding millionaire from listening to opera. Hart turns up some Aretha Franklin. That’s the kind of good timing that can’t be learned on a sitcom set.