The Upside (2019) Review
A POIGNANT (YET FLAT)
Hollywood is still fascinated with remakes and it’s a paradoxical thing for major motion picture studios to “bank” on when crafting feature length movies. The idea of reimagining a cinematic narrative and repurposing it for a new modern moviegoing audience is something that seems to work, especially in the profitable eyes of film studios, but it does come with its fair share of criticism. Of course, this shows that Hollywood (speaking in general terms) is running out of ideas; embracing the idea something that worked in the past can be used once again in the present (i.e. slightly altering its cinematic make-up). In general, most of these endeavors do fail and / or don’t quite measure up in trying to surpass the likeability (or entertainment) of the original movie. However, there are a few Hollywood remakes that are better than their original counterpart, including 1982’s The Thing (1951’s The Thing from Another World), 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1964’s Bedtime Story), 2006’s The Departed (2002’s Internal Affairs), and most recently 2018’s A Star is Born (1937’s A Star is Born). Now, in Hollywood’s on-going crusade of continuing its trend of revamping and rebooting old motion pictures, STX Films, Lantern Entertainment, and director Neil Burger present the remake of the 2011 film The Untouchables with the movie The Upside. Does this latest Hollywood remake rise to the challenge or does it flounder in being yet another pointless remake from Tinseltown?
In New York City, Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is struggling with his recent parole, forced to show interest in acquire a job. However, Dell’s problem is the fact that he doesn’t care enough to better his ruined life, unable to support his ex-wife, Latrice (Aja Naomi King), and unable to connect with his estranged son, Anthony (Jahl Di’Allo Winston). Requiring a simple signature to prove his job-hunting vocational effort, Dell finds himself in line for a position as a caregiver for Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a wealthy quadriplegic who responds to the young man’s lack of pity and fake façade pretenses. Despite having no medical experience (or even any experience in being an auxiliary caregiver), Dell is hired, soon living with Phillip’s penthouse apartment, trying to learn his daily routine of care while marveling over his elaborate lifestyle change. While assistant Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman) disapproves of the new hire, she watches as Phillip begins to bond with Dell as the pair search for a mutual understanding about each other (and within themselves) and inspiring an unexpected friendship.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It really does go without saying that Hollywood is in love with the idea of remakes and reboots that proceed to cultivate past feature films into new iterations. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it’s definitely a sort of paradox thing as moviegoers (and Hollywood film studios) are still fascinated with remakes. That being said, there’s a certain duality to it all as it shows that Hollywood isn’t interested in creating something “new” or “fresh”, finding a proven feature film narrative to work better than trying to cultivate something “creatively original”. This can also be extrapolated in long-running movie franchises; utilizing a common narrative thread that (again…proven), but seems like a lesser iteration of what’s coming before it. A perfect example of this is in the Transformers film saga, which has shown a steady declining since it first began. Although, 2018’s Bumblebee seems to be a paradigm shift for the franchise), so I guess that’s good thing. So, does this mean that Hollywood is not interested in taking risk and having the philosophy mentally of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”? There are some that will say yes to that statement, especially given all the failed or bland remakes that has been produced over the years. However, like the movies I mentioned above, there have been a few remakes that have surpassed the original motion picture. All in all, the current trend of Hollywood revisiting and repurposing old feature films into new ones is sort of a “double edge sword” that goes hand-in-hand in both good and bad.
This brings me back to talking about The Upside, a 2019 film release of a Hollywood endeavor repurposing an older motion picture into a new one (i.e. a remake). For those who don’t know, the story being told in The Upside is based upon a 2011 French film called The Untouchables, which was inspired by the true story life of Phillip Pozzo di Borgo. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see The Untouchables prior to viewing The Upside (I read a summary online after seeing it), so my review is mostly gonna be based on what saw from viewing The Upside and not to so much in the comparsion of the two. While I didn’t hear much about this movie (The Upside) on the internet or across social media platforms, I saw the film’s movie trailer a few times when I went on my weekly movie outings at my local theater, occasionally seeing the preview here and there in the past few months. Judging from what I saw in the movie trailer, The Upside looked to be a “feel good” / based on a true-life story that Hollywood is currently known for doing every so often, bolstered by the acting talents that are involved in the project. However, it felt sort of familiar (even from the trailer) and really didn’t entice me personal to get really excited about seeing the movie. That being said, I was slightly curious to see how this movie would be presented as one of the first major motion picture film of the 2019 year. So, I took a chance a decided to see this movie during its second opening weekend (again, I wasn’t in a super rush to go see it). So, what did I think of the movie? Well, it’s okay endeavor. While The Upside is performed well by the talents assembled, the film itself just doesn’t resonate as much as the story being told. The film is moving (to a certain degree), but isn’t well executed and seems too familiar.
The Upside is directed by Neil Burger, whose previous directorial works include past movie endeavors such as The Illusionists, Limitless, and Divergent. Given the fact that this particular narrative has already been done before (meaning its source material), Burger approaches this film in trying to reach a US audience of moviegoers, modernizing the tale for a more general terms as well as utilizing the quality / well-known acting talents of several key people in the film’s key primary roles. At its core, is a heart-warming that (despite what I say about the movie or what others say) has the makings of a “feel good” movie, with Burger trying to make sure that the film’s message gets across. To his effect, he does, making The Upside poignant in the narrative being told how it can be measured within the “human condition”, extrapolating ideas of very “human” characteristic within the film’s two main protagonist characters that the movie follows. This, along with the movie’s screenplay by Jon Hartmere that follows the original story structure closely (I’ve read the summary synopsis of The Untouchables after viewing The Upside), makes the film’s story meaningful, showcasing how two individuals (from different backgrounds) come together and change each other lives (for the better).
What Burger (along with Hartmere) tries to create within this Hollywood remake is adding a certain comedic blending within the movie’s more dramatic / heavy moments. To me, it half works (more on that below), but its an admirable aspect through into the movie, which could’ve been very much melodramatic and extremely heavy in its gravitas, especially given the nature of Phillips’s quadriplegic lifestyle (physically and mentally). Despite its comedy, Burger does delve into certain “heavy” subject matters in a few areas of the film, allowing the dichotomy (and sometimes similarities) that both main characters Phillip and Dell and how they characteristic are presented / evolve throughout the narrative. However, the problem with that is that Burger doesn’t dig deep enough into those areas and only seems the surface (more on that below). All in all, Burger presents his own cinematic iteration The Untouchables; speaking to a more “American” audience and mostly succeeds in getting his point across The Upside motion picture. It’s not quite as polished or refined as Burger intended, but the film does get it’s point across by presenting the tale of two men and their unique situation that forms into a bond of friendship.
Speaking on presentation, The Upside is adequately good and meets all the industry standards of a Hollywood “dramedy” endeavor of recent. Given the film’ setting and lifestyle wealth that the character Phillip Lacasse has, the film utilizes that monetary wealth good when setting scenes, showcasing elaborate and / or decorative pieces within Phillip’s penthouse. Thus, the production designs by Mark Freidberg and set decorations by Beth A. Rubino and William M. Staab should highlighted in achievement that “wealthy” look in Phil’s dwellings. All other categories, including cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh), film editing (Naomi Geraghty), and costume designs (Kasia Walicka-Maimone) are good, but nothing truly to sort of “rave” about. Even the film’s musical score, which was composed by Rob Simonsen is okay-ish and, while it does provide melodic moments to elevate scenes (be dramatic or lighthearted sequences), the music doesn’t truly stand out (barring a few operatic music pieces of selections). Thus, all their efforts in making The Upside are good, but nothing truly stands out in appealing and / or memorable. Meaning that a lot of the movie’s background setting and technical presentation is adequate…neither really good or really bad (kind of breaks even).
Unfortunately, there were some pretty fatal flaws that I found while viewing The Upside, which makes the movie falter and stumble and never fully reaching its potential. Perhaps the most noticeable one that’s easy to spot is how the film is actually presented. What do I mean? Well, it’s the comedy and drama aspect that really don’t “gel” with each other. The story is there and its crystal clear as to what Burger wants to achieve for the film and what Hartmere wants to tell, but it’s a bit confusing as to what the movie itself wants to be. Some bits and pieces of the movie work and work well, but other times the whole juxtaposition of comedy and drama doesn’t seem to resonate and / or mesh well cohesively. The comedy parts will produce a few chuckled moments, but nothing really laugh-out loud or quite memorable (well, maybe a scene involving a catheter). The same goes with the drama as the movie nor the script goes deep within those particular scenes. Because of this The Upside comes off as hollow within trying to explain its characters and (by proximity) their character persona. We (as the viewers) get a bit of backstory, but not fully, which does make a lot of the film feelings underdeveloped…more on this in the paragraphs below. Thus, the aspect of this “dramedy” experience feels muddled from start to finish, including a bit of an awkward opening scene. To me, it sort of feels like The Upside has a “mistaken identity” throughout large portion of the movie; the film never knowning what it really wants to be. It’s a disappointing notion as the story being told is moving and endearing, especially dealing with such large and meaningful themes of the human condition.
Additionally, there’s also a since of “familiarity” with this movie; begging the question as to why this particular cinematic endeavor needed to be remade. As I stated above, I never saw the film The Untouchables of which this movie is based on, but I read the summary of the movie and got I a sense of the feature’s story. That being said, even without seeing the original movie, there’s an overall abundance of predictably throughout the movie, especially from similar type movies. Personally, while I was watching the movie, I kept on thinking about the 2016 film Me Before You as both movies share extremely similar beats story / plot beats (minus the romance relationship between the two primary characters). One is poor and “down on his luck” while the other is wealthy “physically” crippled, the pair bond together (clashing in the beginning) but grow to respect one another, etc. You can see what I mean in the comparsion. So, I felt that I’ve seeing this movie before and all the narrative beats throughout the film were easy to spot way before the appear on-screen; adding less excitement to the film’s overall viewing experience. Again, there’s a sense of familiarity with the movie and The Upside comes off as a hallow endeavor, with little creativity and memorable entertainment to the film’s proceedings (a sort of “been there, done that” vibe).
Another major problem with the movie is the third act, which sort of falls apart. What do I mean? Well, it’s riddled with problematic nuances, including a few cliched riddled scenes that don’t really offer much conclusion to the film’s story. It’s an ending that kind left me in felt a bit unsatisfying and one that only partial closes out the movie’s plot, leaving a lot left open and /or not discussed fully. So…is it Burger’s fault or is it Hartmere’s fault? Well, to be honest, it’s both as both director and script writer’s fault, with the combined efforts making a “feel good” that feels shallow and missing out on a lot of making The Upside poignant and impactful on a viewer’s tender moments as well as entertainment values.
The cast in The Upside has several recognizable “headliners” in the movie, lending their theatrical / acting screen presence that acts as the primary characters in the film. Headlining the movie (as the film’s two main leads) are comedic actor Kevin Hart and actor Bryan Cranston in the roles of Dell Scott and Phillip Lacasse respectfully. Hart, who’s known for his roles in Central Intelligence, Ride Along, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, gives a surprisingly good performance as Dell, a character that is quite different from what Hart is known for playing in his past endeavors. Given the fact that this movie is somewhat considered a “dramedy” type, Hart does get to use his comedic skills in a few bits and pieces (however they’re not as uproariously funny as past projects), but still add a bit of “hart-ish” comedy into the mix. And yet, Hart is still able to provide enough “drama” interjection while playing Dell, which makes his performance (regardless if you liked the movie or not) indeed memorable. Thus, Hart’s iteration of Dell is good and does serve the film’s main narrative.
Likewise, Cranston, known for his roles in Breaking Bad, Trumbo, and Argo, does an equally great performance (even better than Hart) in his role as Phillip, a more jaded man that has wealth and power, but his confided into a wheelchair due to his injury. It’s a classic archetype of sorts, so the character build isn’t really new, but Cranston does fine job in the part, elevating the character by utilizing his theatrical talents as well as making Phillip have a sort of dry sense of humor. Additionally, Cranston and Hart do share a solid on-screen chemistry with each other, which does help us (the viewer) “buy into” their respective characters of Dell and Phillip throughout the course of the movie. Behind Hart’s Dell and Cranston’s Phillip is the character of Yvonne Pendleton (Phillips advisor / caregiver), who is played by actress Nicole Kidman. Known for her roles in The Hours, Cold Mountain, and The Others, Kidman, like her other lead co-stars, is fine actress in Hollywood and does a good job in playing Yvonne in The Upside. Again, like mentioned above, the character isn’t quite deep nor really isn’t explored in-depth (beyond a few snippets of background information mentioned here and there), but Kidman does what she can with the material given to her and does elevate it with her theatrical talents.
That seems to be the perfect example of all three (Hart, Cranston, and Kidman) as all three display fine acting talents in the movie, but their characters aren’t quite well-rounded as they’ve could’ve been. Thus, the blame of this falls to Burger and Hartemere for not making the film’s characters deep enough and only “slimming” the surface on certain particular aspects of them.
With the movie focusing primarily on those three characters, the rest of cast for The Upside is in minor supporting roles that are scattered throughout the film. This includes actor Tate Donavan (Shooter and Argo) as Phillip’s apartment neighbor Carter Locke, actress Goldshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) as Phillip’s other physical assistant Dr. Magana “Maggie” Gupta, actress Aja Naomi King (The Birth of a Nation and How to Get Away with Murder) as Dell’s ex-wife Latrice, and actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston (Feed the Beast and Everything Sucks!) as Dell’s son Anthony. Again, these particular actors and actresses, while limited on being well-rounded characters (other than stock-like character builds) are performed well in their respective roles.
Friendships can form from both the most unexpected people and circumstances. Such is the case with characters of Dell Scott and Philipp Lacasse in the movie The Upside. Director Neil Burger’s latest film sees the 2011 film The Untouchables remade for a more “American” / modern audience viewers, showcasing a more “dramedy” aspect to the story being told. Unfortunately, while the primary cast is good in the movie and the story is indeed palpable, the film fails to strike a cinematic cord within its own narrative, especially when examining the formulaic storyline flow, the lack of depth within its characters, and the clunky ending. Personally, I thought this movie was somewhere between okay-ish and “meh”. I did like the main cast and the premise is heartfelt, but it felt somewhat hallow in various parts and didn’t really encompass all that could’ve been. Plus, it felt like an unnecessary remake from Hollywood (I’m planning on checking out The Untouchables sometime soon to compare the two films). Thus, my recommendation for The Upside is gonna be both a “iffy-choice” as well as a “rent it”, for some will like it, while others won’t. Basically, just wait for this movie to come to TV sometime next year as the film is not really offensive, so it will most likely be on several channels (i.e. TBS, TNT, ABC, HBO, etc.). In the end, The Upside, despite its premise and strong cast, fails to find a satisfying harmony between comedy and heart and ends up being stuck somewhere in-between in a sort of cinematic purgatory of Hollywood remakes.
3.1 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Rent It)
Released On: January 11th, 2019
Reviewed On: January 23rd, 2019
The Upside is 126 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use