The pairing of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston may seem like an unusual match for the silver screen, but The Upside proves that opposites attract. In the new comedy drama (which is directed by Neil Burger and based on the 2011 film The Intouchables), Cranston stars as a wealthy paralyzed New York City man named Phillip. With the isolated billionaire confined to a wheelchair following a tragic accident, his executive assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) must hire a new caregiver.
The austere Yvonne (who is played with depth by Kidman) finds an unlikely candidate in the form of streetwise Dell. As an underprivileged, urban man recently released from prison, Kevin Hart’s tough-talking and witty Dell stumbles into the job interview looking for a stamp of approval for his parole officer. However, he later finds himself in an unlikely new role, responsible for caring for the profoundly disabled Philip.
Although they come from two completely different worlds, Dell and Phillip happen to have a few things in common. The two men from opposite backgrounds share a wry sense of humour and a strong will, which perhaps helps them form an unexpected bond. Dell introduces Phil to adventure, parties and women, along with the music of Aretha Franklin. Meanwhile, Phil’s beautiful mansion, sophisticated artwork and upscale lifestyle soon become the new norm for formerly penniless Dell, who has a young son to support.
Perhaps as a powerful running theme which doesn’t try to conceal itself as an undercurrent, the film examines the concepts of privilege, disability and wealth. Phil’s riches and status are contrasted against Dell’s poverty, while the topic of race also plays a role. Among these differences lies one which is the most striking, and perhaps the most touching- Phil is physically disabled, while Dell is able-bodied and considerably younger.
Hart retains his comedic prowess, juxtaposed against Cranston’s subtle sarcasm. However, Hart’s Dell also packs meaning and soul into his delivery, and Cranston’s one-liners contain an unusual amount of passion. Overall, the film manages to encapsulate elements of the entire human experience, from love to loss. When Dell’s school-aged son looks at him with a hesitant new respect, or Cranston reflects on an ill-fated date with a beautiful, able-bodied woman, the audience can feel it. Even altercations between the two characters prove that this is an unusual love story, in the form of an unconventional brotherhood.
Throughout it all, we have Kidman’s composed and chic Yvonne as the sharp-tongued voice of reason. Whether bringing the outspoken Dell down to earth or trying to boost Phil’s spirits, it’s a strong supporting role from the talented actress. Naturally, the more obvious hero of this tale is clearly Cranston, who plays a differently abled character with genuine emotion and humility. As for the story itself, The Upside makes us look at the positives, with improbable hero Hart bringing heart to a lovable, misunderstood character.