A remake of the 2011 French film “The Intouchables,” the newly titled “The Upside” is a very American take on the story and benefits from a strong cast. According to my memory, the French film contained more comedy and less anger than this version, which also adds more complications. But inspired by a real-life situation, the basic story line is the same, combining humor with human issues in the tale of emotional bonding and recovery from despair.
The always-excellent Bryan Cranston plays Phillip, the billionaire who became a paraplegic as a result of a parasailing accident. That, in addition to the death of his wife, has left him terribly despondent and without the will to live. Although he is sharp mentally, he must be fed and attended to with respect to all of his body functions. Nicole Kidman, also impressive as usual, plays Yvonne, his doting but stern assistant and manager of his life and business affairs.
Enter Kevin Hart as Dell, an angry, unemployed, broke ex-con who needs signatures to show he has been looking for a job in order to collect unemployment benefits. Dell is down in the dumps with respect to his wife and son not wanting anything to do with him because he is such a loser. He shows up in Phillip‘s posh Manhattan apartment thinking he is to be interviewed for a job as janitor without knowing that Phillip is interviewing applicants to be his caretaker. Phillip is hostile as usual, and, seeing the inexperienced Dell as someone who could help speed his demise, insists on hiring him despite Yvonne’s objection.
What follows is the gradual affection the men develop for one another as Dell learns to care for Phillip (there are some funny scenes as Dell finds it difficult to fulfill such chores as changing Phillip’s catheter) and ultimately instills a more positive attitude in his charge. Along the way Phillip instills in Dell an appetite for culture. However, Dell pushes too far with respect to a correspondence Phillip has been having with a woman whom he has never met, resulting in a sharp setback. We, of course, know that there will be an ultimate happier outlook. Phillip will feel better about himself, he and Dell will bond, and the relationship will turn Dell into a better human being who recovers the respect of his wife and son.
All of that is a tall order, and this version, written by Jon Hartmere, Eric Toledano and Oliver Hakache, based on the French film, and directed by Neil Burger, gets more complex and far-fetched than the original. But the performances by Cranston, Hart and Kidman elevate the story, and many scenes are brashly entertaining in contrast to those that are emotionally devastating. Remakes often fail dismally, but “The Upside” is a modestly respectable and often gratifying transfer into an English language, American-style success despite the overboard excesses. A STX Film release. Reviewed January 11, 2019.