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Movie Review: “The Upside”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 1/11/2019

Theatrical Release: 1/11/2019

Synopsis

After a tragic accident, Phillip (Bryan Cranston) was left without the ability to move or feel anything below his neck. He has full control of both his head and his face, but that is about it. Fortunately, Phillip is incredibly wealthy and he has his loyal friend Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) at his side. She cannot, be at his side 24/7, however, so the two look to hire a life auxiliary to take care of Phillip. Whoever is hired will need to transport Phillip from bed to chair, transport him from chair to bed, feed him, change his clothes, bathe him, and even change his catheter. Most importantly, whoever is hired will need to be available 24/7, which will mean they need to live in Philip’s luxurious apartment. It is not an easy job, but it has its perks and Phillip will pay a good price for it.

Dell (Kevin Hart) is an ex-convict who is trying to find honest work so that he can redeem himself in the eyes of his ex-girlfriend and son. He finds himself in an interview with Phillip and Yvonne. However, Dell has never done anything like this before, and while Yvonne thinks Dell is a terrible choice, Phillip instantly takes a liking to him. In an effort to make Dell’s job only a temporary one, Yvonne establishes a three-strike policy, and Phillip agrees to it. Should Dell make three mistakes, he will be fired. He is severely unqualified, but for his family, he will try to make the most of the opportunity set before him.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Bryan Cranston (+5pts)

Yvonne (-3pts)

Kevin Hart (+5pts)

Predictable (-5pts)

Phillip & Dell (+6pts)

Dell’s Family (-3pts)

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Pro: Bryan Cranston (+5pts)

This was not an incredible performance, but it was definitely a strong one. Bryan Cranston made it easy to sympathize with and care about this character. The story will naturally make you sympathize with Phillip, but Bryan Cranston really drove it home. The guy is a talented comedic actor and a talented dramatic actor, and this character certainly benefited from having an actor who can pull off both. Phillip was in an obviously bad situation, and you will understand his depression, but Bryan Cranston will make you want to see the character get through it. It is one thing to be told how a character is feeling, but Bryan Cranston’s performance will make you feel it.

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Con: Yvonne (-3pts)

Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) felt like a pretty inconsistent character. She immediately disliked Dell, and came across as an unnecessary antagonist. Then the character just kind of switches half way through the movie. There did not seem to be any real reason for it, but it happened nonetheless. I obviously did not think Nicole Kidman was responsible for this issue—as that blame would largely fall on the writers—but I thought the character came across as inconsistent, because the story lacked any reason for her change of heart.

Additionally, the character was sometimes really serious, while other times she was really quirky. It just felt like this character was all over the place. I get that this was based on a true story, but if Yvonne was even a real person and the real person did not have a definitive reason for this change of heart, then the writers should have written one into the story anyway. At the end of the day, this movie needed to be entertaining and the characters needed to make sense to the audience. Unfortunately, I do not think Yvonne did.

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Pro: Kevin Hart (+5pts)

Much like Bryan Cranston, I thought Kevin Hart delivered a strong performance in this movie, and this was easily one of the strongest performance I have seen from Kevin Hart. Everyone knows the man can handle his comedic roles, but this was the most demanding dramatic role that I have seen him play. Most of Kevin Hart’s roles have been comedies, with some dramatic flavor sprinkled in there. This movie had plenty of comedy, but the focus was really on the dramatic and emotional story, and I thought Kevin Hart did a great job with it. I did not think Kevin Hart’s performance was all that memorable, as no one will be talking about it days after seeing it, but it was a strong dramatic performance that served the movie well. It also showed that Kevin Hart is more than just a comedic actor, and that he has the potential to pull off dramatic roles just as effectively. Whether or not Kevin Hart makes a career change and starts taking on more dramatic roles is entirely up to Kevin Hart, but after seeing this movie, I know Kevin Hart can handle them.

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Con: Predictable (-5pts)

I liked this movie, but I thought it was very predictable. To start, whenever I see a buddy movie like this, I know to expect a very specific story arc. First, they will not get a long because they are different. Second, they will become very good friends and everything will get better for both of them. Third, something will happen that drives tension between the two characters, which ends in a fight that you are supposed to pretend they might not come back from. This movie hit every single one of those expected beats, but the filmmakers made it even more predictable than that. On top of this, the filmmakers did two things that bothered me.

The first thing they did was start the movie by showing a scene that occurred toward the end of the story, only to jump to the beginning of the story by fading to black and saying “six months earlier”. Not much happened in that first scene, but it did give away what state their friendship would be in by the end of the movie. The second thing they did was to show something that would drive a wedge in the friendship. In other words, it is one thing to expect all the plot points that I mentioned earlier, but it is another thing for the filmmakers to basically tell you they are going to happen. I lost a good amount of interest in this story, because the filmmakers told me exactly how the movie would play out, essentially spoiling their own movie.

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Pro: Phillip & Dell (+6pts)

To put it very simply, this movie’s greatest strength was the friendship that formed between the two main characters. Phillip and Dell each came from very different lifestyles, and I liked seeing the two interacting with one another. Dell was also very unqualified for the job he was taking on, which provided a lot of the film’s comedy, but this was made even better by the strong chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. Neither actor out-shined the other. Instead they both worked well together and delivered a believable friendship that audiences will enjoy spending time with.

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Con: Dell’s Family (-3pts)

Throughout this story, we were supposed to care about Dell’s family, but I had a few issues with this storyline. To an extent, I did care about them, but it was more due to me having a reasonable amount of empathy, as opposed to the storyline being properly developed. Additionally, I was invested in Dell so had a base level of concern for him, which meant I indirectly cared about his family, but I did not really connect with the characters of Dell’s son or ex-girlfriend. My last issue with this storyline was that I felt it sent a poor message. Without going into details, the moral of Dell’s story can pretty easily be interpreted as “money buys happiness”. If you do not have money, you will not be happy, and getting money solves all of your problems. That was more or less the message in Dell's story with his family, and I did not think it was a great one.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (80pts)

I found this story to be very predictable, and I found the supporting characters to be severely underdeveloped. The story followed all of the beats that you would expect from a friendship story like this one, and the filmmakers spoiled their own movie by starting the movie with telling the audience how everything would play out. With the supporting characters, Yvonne felt like a very inconsistent character—whose behavior changed whenever it was convenient for the writers—and Dell's family were just underdeveloped characters that I did not connect with. The best things about The Upside were its main characters and the actors playing them. Phillip and Dell’s friendship was an entertaining one to follow. Both Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart delivered strong performances, where the dramatic moments were just as captivating as the comedic moments were entertaining. The two characters—and the actors playing them—made for a movie that I enjoyed watching, in spite of its obvious flaws.

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