TIFF 2017 Review: The Upside is the Surprise Buddy Comedy of the Year.
The Upside is the American remake of the French film, The Intouchables which was released back in 2011. The film is about a paraplegic who hires the least qualified candidate to be his caregiver. It is based on a true story and stars Bryan Cranston as Philip, Kevin Hart as Dell, and Nicole Kidman as Yvonne. The film premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival which is where I was able to catch a screening of the film.
I was a big fan of the Intouchables so when they announced an American remake, I was naturally worried. I have been following this film for quite some time and found the casting choices to be rather strange. While Cranston fit the role of Phillip, I was shocked to learn that Kevin Hart was hired because he didn’t seem to fit the personality of the Omar Sy’s character nor does he look the part.
Surprisingly, The Upside is just as good, if not slightly better than the original. While I will be the first to admit that I had my doubts about Kevin Hart pulling off this role, he absolutely nails it. This is a side of Kevin Hart that filmgoers haven’t seen before and he lights up the screen. On the surface, Dell can be somewhat obnoxious but as the story progresses we get to see all these different sides of him. Dell has made some mistakes but he is trying his best to rectify them and improve his life which includes building a relationship with his son Anthony. Hart turns Dell into this relatable and genuine person who you just can’t help but love over time.
Cranston, who best known for his dramatic roles, is spectacular as multi-faceted Phillip. Just like Dell, there is more to Phillip than what we see on the surface. In the beginning, you want to write him off as an entitled white guy but as time goes on, you can see that Phillip has been hurt and his spirits have been crushed. There is a powerful and emotional moment where Phillip loses it and starts yelling at Dell. He instructs him to break things around the room. In this moment, you can’t help but feel the pain that Phillip is experiencing at the moment.
Cranston and Hart are perfect together. They bounce off one another with such ease and their chemistry is spot-on. Each of them has their moments where they deliver big laughs but they also give the audience a reason to care about them as people. What I think these two actors do so well is that they balance their relationship to humorous and emotional. They both need one another and as a result, they both grow as people over the course of the film.
Nicole Kidman plays Phillip’s assistant Yvonne. She is the type of person that takes everything way too seriously and doesn’t have the time nor the desire to joke around. She isn’t supportive of Philip’s decision to hire Dell and constantly questions his qualifications for the position. Yvonne, just like Dell and Philip, does change over time and becomes a lot more level-headed and fun to be around. She works great as the third wheel between the friendship of Phillip and Dell.
The jokes in the Upside occur fairly often and hit pretty big. I laughed out loud several times which is something that doesn’t happen very often. The jokes are smart and well-written. The humor, for the most part, is all performance driven meaning that in order for the joke to work it relies on how a certain line Is delivered or how the actor reacts to a particular situation. For example, there is a scene where Dell has to change Phillip’s catheter and instead of showing Dell removing it, all we see is his reaction while he explains what is going on. The scene is hilarious because it challenges the viewer to actually think about what’s going on rather than relying on a cheap sight gag. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate comedies that rely on the actors and/or dialogue to produce laughs rather than showing something that is gross or sexual.
Paul Feig and Jon Hartmere do a great job adapting the original source material and updating it to speak to a wider demographic. Feig and Hartmere change Driss to Dell and give him some additional backstory. This was a great decision because audiences can now relate and connect with this character a bit more now than in the original. Neil Burger’s direction is top notch. He expertly recreates some of the most memorable scenes from the original such as the opening car scene while adding in several new moments that allow this film to stand out on its own.
The Upside is the surprise buddy comedy of the year and one that should be a pretty big hit as long as it is marketed properly. The Upside is the type of film that will give you the feels while also making you laugh. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston are the perfect oddball duo and are irresistible together. The Upside will be hard to top as one of the best buddy comedies of the year. I love this story and I am so glad that Neil Burger was able to turn a French cult classic into a mainstream American film without losing any of the heart or humor.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for The Upside is an 8 out of 10.