The Upside is based on a true story about an unlikely friendship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and his careworker. While the premise sounds a bit cold, stuffy and depressing, their unexpected friendship is anything but… blossoming into a bromance for the ages. The powerful relationship at its core was first explored in the French comedy-drama, The Intouchables. This influential and brilliant French comedy was a smash hit, a hilarious and joyous buddy movie with an infectious sense of humour worth repeating.
Omar Sy was the personality of the year in France and it’s no surprise given his exuberant performance, crazy dance moves and tenacious spirit. The heartfelt true story, original music from Earth, Wind and Fire as well as Sy’s star-making performance turned this beautifully humane and uproarious comedy-drama into a true classic, which was unfortunate not to take best foreign film in its year.
The film’s success spread and brought about this remake from Limitless director Neil Burger, which drops the subtitles, takes the setting from Paris to New York, changing several aspects but keeping the main thread intact and familiar. Burger is a curious choice to direct, more acquainted with serious films, possibly forcing The Upside to lean toward drama rather than comedy. The Hollywood version has tied up some loose ends, added a bit of polish, simplified where possible and is brought together by two of its biggest stars right now in Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart.
“When I touch you like this…”
The Upside takes a while to warm up but is fortunate to have talented co-stars who lean into their performances. While Kevin Hart is an unstoppable comedy force in his own right, this is a much more subdued take, not quite measuring up to the heady glee of The Intouchables, making it a much bluer counterpart. Bryan Cranston is limited to using his neck and head, delivering yet another solid performance and making a worthy replacement for François Cluzet.
While The Upside is charming enough to entertain and even touch audiences, it pales in comparison with the original. Leveraging Aretha Franklin’s music, Kevin Hart’s star quality and doing a great job of transposing the film in New York, it just has a more melancholic, frustrated and manufactured tone. If you haven’t seen The Intouchables, The Upside will stir your emotions, hold your attention and compel you, yet it can’t help but feel like second fiddle. The net result is a film enjoyable for its story and charming stars, yet frustrated by its remake status and cliches… giving it a rote and insincere feel.
The bottom line: Familiar