By: Jessica Goddard
A perfectly harmless buddy film with charming performances from an A-list cast, The Upside weaves compelling drama with light comedy.
Coming from opposite ends of the New York City class spectrum, Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a respected billionaire in a Manhattan penthouse, while Dell (Kevin Hart) is a fresh-out-of-prison absentee father from the Bronx, who desperately needs a job – or at least evidence on paper he’s looking for one.
When Phillip, a recent quadriplegic, starts interviewing for a live-in caretaker, the basically homeless Dell shows up (by accident) and is hired despite being the least qualified and least interested in the job (the script is careful to eventually clarify Phillip’s unexpected motive, and it isn’t just to “be a good guy”). So Dell moves into the lavish penthouse, at the bewilderment of Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), Phillip’s anxious executive assistant. Of course, the employer-employee relationship turns into a friendship; and Dell learns to be responsible while Phillip learns to take himself less seriously and enjoy life again.
The relationship progresses naturally enough in a believable timeframe, though the passage of time can be a little ambiguous over the course of the film. There are moments of tension and drama that balance well with the comedic scenes and dialogue, even though screenwriter Jon Hartmere can’t resist injecting some forced, sickening sentimentality towards the end. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give Cranston much to work with, as his character confusingly oscillates between an obsession with his late wife and a mysterious alternative romantic interest.
The performances from Cranston and Hart carry the film for the most part, with an unlikely chemistry that tones down the more potentially patronizing elements of the story. The actors also seem to be enjoying one another, which gives the movie a steady energy.
All in all, The Upside is fine and inoffensive when it’s not trying desperately hard to be uplifting.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod