Film Review: THE UPSIDE
There is a certain irony surrounding the dilemma faced by THE UPSIDE's character of Dell vs. Kevin Hart's recent controversy with the Oscars. Don't believe me? Well, let me explain...Minus his backstory as a paroled convict, Dell, due to past transgressions, has splintered his relationship with his family (similar to the way that Hart has done so with some of the public) and tries to find a way to make good with them while also growing as a person. Sound familiar?
Directed by Neil Burger, the film, based on a true story, plays in the way that you'd expect odd couple "dramedies" (drama/comedy hybrid) about two friends to play: two people - from different walks of life - meet and make each others lives all the better as a result of their unlikely friendship. However, following the "honeymoon phase" of the friendship, an inciting event happens to test their friendship, forcing both two parties to reconcile and renew their friendship in the end.
Now, with all of that said, there are many great elements to this film that elevate it from simply being another mediocre dramedy. First, I'll start with the chemistry between Cranston and Hart. In a film in which so much hinges on the interaction of its two lead characters, both actors provide strong performances. Unlike his other films, Kevin Hart's portrayal of Dell is a bit more serious than what you'd find in his other characters. Gone is the screw-ball, slapstick comedy that you would typically come to expect from him in a film like this. Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Phillip is also quite good, providing a look into someone whose quick wit often masks a veil of sadness. Together as duo, their chemistry is quite dynamic - full of quippy comedic banter that you will be sure to enjoy. In fact, there are so many moments involving their comedic timing and banter with one another that I will not spoil it for you here and instead leave for you to enjoy when you see the film for yourself.
Another great strength of the film is it's balance of drama and comedy. Considering that this film about a quadriplegic and his aide (or life auxilary, if you want to be specific), who respectively tackle the emotional baggages of loss, depression, abandonment, the story could have easily descended into a real downer. However, thanks to Burger's direction to have situational humor develop out of the moments that transpire in the film, along with the performances provided by the cast (particularly with Cranston and Hart), the film manages to strike an equal balance of emotional weight and levity throughout the film - something which is not an easy feat.
Still, no film is perfect, and THE UPSIDE is no exception. As mentioned before, the film recycles some tropes (i.e. the odd couple, the dramedy formula, etc.) that you have likely seen other films, so it fairly predictable. However, one additional trope that the film suffers from is that of "the white savior." If you're unfamiliar with this trope, in essence, it involves a person of color being pulled out of some terrible circumstance that they themselves would otherwise be unable to resolve themselves. For instance, in the case of Dell, without Phillip's (Cranston's) decision to hire him as his auxilary, he (as an ex-con) likely would have had no life prospects and likely found himself back on the path that led him to prison. While you could argue that Dell helps Phillip out of his "funk" (regarding his condition and his life as a widower), it's hard to deny the impact that Phillip's wealth and resources have on Dell's life. Now, as stated before, this is film based on a true story, so it's hard to say whether the decision to adapt the story in this way was a dramatic license or if their the Dell/Phillip friendship occurred in this way. Regardless, with it being 2018, it's hard to not overlook this.
All in all though, despite these gripes just mentioned, the film has more than enough heart and humor to overcome these shortcomings. Therefore if you love any Cranston's or Hart's prior work, you'll more than likely enjoy this one.
THE UPSIDE opens today in theaters.
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