Movie Review: “The Upside”
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 it. Fortunately, Phillip is incredibly wealthy and has Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), his loyal friend, at his side. She cannot, however, be at his side 24/7 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. It is not an easy job, but 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, as they try to determine if he is qualified for the position. Dell has never done anything like this before and yet, while Yvonne thinks Dell is a terrible choice, Phillip instantly takes a liking to him. Dell is not a huge fan of the job, but it is honest work and he is a huge fan of the pay. Unfortunately, Yvonne establishes a three-strike policy (that Phillip agreed to). 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 this opportunity.
The Pros & Cons
Bryan Cranston (+5pts)
Kevin Hart (+5pts)
Phillip & Dell (+6pts)
Dell’s Family (-3pts)
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 naturally makes you sympathize with Phillip, but Bryan Cranston really drives it home. He always makes his characters so relatable. The guy is a talented comedic actor and a talented dramatic actor, and this character certainly benefited from both. Phillip is in an obviously bad situation, and you understand his depression, but Bryan Cranston makes 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 makes you feel it.
Con: Yvonne (-3pts)
Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) felt like a pretty inconsistent character. She immediately dislikes Dell, and comes across as an unnecessary antagonist. Then the character just kind of switches half way through the movie. There does not seem to be any real reason for it, but it happens. I did not think Nicole Kidman was responsible for this issue (I think the blame largely falls 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 is sometimes really serious, while other times she is 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 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 connect with the audience. Unfortunately, I do not think Yvonne did.
Pro: Kevin Hart (+5pts)
Much like my thoughts on Bryan Cranston in this movie, I thought Kevin Hart delivered an equally strong performance. Personally, I think this is the strongest performance that I have seen from Kevin Hart. Everyone knows the actor can handle his comedic roles, but this is the strongest dramatic performance that I have seen from him. Most of Kevin Hart’s roles have been comedies, with some dramatic flavor. This movie has plenty of comedy, but the focus is really on the drama. It is a drama with comedic flavor and Kevin Hart held his own with Bryan Cranston (a proven dramatic actor).
Much like my thoughts on Bryan Cranston’s performance, I do not think Kevin Hart’s performance was all that memorable, but it was a strong dramatic performance that served the movie well. Furthermore, it showed that Kevin Hart is more than just a comedic actor and has the potential to transition into more dramatic roles. Will he do this? That is entirely up to what he wants to do, but after seeing this movie, I know Kevin Hart can handle more dramatic roles.
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 will not come back from. This movie hits every single one of the expected beats, but the filmmakers made it even more predictable than simply following these expected plot points. On top of this, the filmmakers did two things that bothered me.
The first thing they did was to start the film by showing a scene that occurs towards the end of the story, then they jump the beginning of the story by fading to black and saying “six months earlier”. Not much happens in this first scene, but it does give away what state their friendship will be in by the end of the movie. The second thing they did was to show (very early on) something that would drive a wedge in the friendship. I am not going to say if it is exactly what causes tension in the friendship, but what I will say is that I thought it was at the time. In other words, it is one thing to expect all the plot points that I mentioned earlier but, when the filmmakers (in the beginning of the movie) showed us that it is exactly how the story will play out, it made me lose a lot of interest in this story. I lost a lot of interest because the filmmakers told me exactly how the movie would play out. They essentially spoiled their own movie.
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 come from very different lifestyles, so I liked seeing the two interact with one another. Dell was also very unqualified, 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 outshined the other. Instead they both worked well together and delivered a believable friendship that audiences will enjoy spending time with.
Con: Dell’s Family (-3pts)
Throughout this story, we are supposed to care about Dell’s family, but I had a few issues with this storyline. To an extent, I did care about them. However, it was more due to having an average amount of empathy, rather than the storyline being properly developed. Additonally, I was invested in Dell so had a base level of concern for his family, but I did not 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 to avoid spoilers, 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.
Grade: B- (80pts)
I found the story to be very predictable and I found the supporting characters to be severely underdeveloped. The story follows all of the same beats that you would expect from a friendship story like this, and the filmmakers spoiled their own movie by starting the movie with a later scene, then jumping back to the beginning of the story. 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. Fortunately, the movie was not all bad.
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. The two characters (and the actors playing them) made for a movie that I really enjoyed watching, despite the film's flaws.