The Upside | Neil Burger | January 11, 2019
Hollywood just couldn’t resist remaking the beloved 2011 French film The Intouchables (directed by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano), and you can almost see why, considering the film was not only a hit in France but took the world by storm going on to make over $426 million worldwide.
Both films are based on the true story of wealthy French quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, who hired Abdul, an ex-con, to be his caretaker even though he lacked a lick of experience. It’s easy to see why the film connected with so many – it’s a familiar tale of two very different people from two very different backgrounds coming together and striking up an unusual friendship.
The Upside, the American version of this story, is helmed by director Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless, The Illusionist) and stars Bryan Cranston as paralyzed billionaire Phillip Lacasse and Kevin Hart as the ex-con-turned-unlikely caretaker Dell Scott.
Dell is on last legs. His parole officer needs proof he’s actually looking for work in the next 24 hours, or it’s back to jail for Dell. His son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and his on-the-outs girlfriend Latrice (Aja Naomi King) see him as a disappointment who never provides for them. But Dell catches a break when he stumbles into Phillip’s office where Phillip and executive assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) are conducting interviews to find a new caretaker. In an act of rebellion, Phillip hires Dell, tired of the same boring care that he’s become so accustomed to receiving and desperate for a bit of chaos in his daily routine.
The opening sequence mirrors the original’s, with the New York City locale immediately setting the stage and differentiating it. Aside from the location and the familiar faces leading the charge, it quickly becomes apparent that this will be a very different version of this tale, and not for the right reasons.
While the original has a natural charm and grace to the way it approaches humor and the rest of its broad storytelling, Burger and writer Jon Hartmere aren’t as subtle and does plenty of telling, rather than showing. With Hart and Cranston leading the way, there’s plenty of room for laughs. But the way that Burger and Hartmere incorporate plotlines and beats feels a bit ham-fisted and forced. Basically, it’s given the full Hollywood treatment.
Ideally, you want to take a film like The Upside and judge it on its own merits, but it’s impossible not to compare it to the original Intouchables. Of course, there are more creative liberties taken, including new character names, removed characters, and altered storylines. I would be lying if I said that I found any of these new changes to improve the film for the better. The new elements and subplots (as well as a forced conflict between Hart and Cranston) don’t feel fresh or new, but sadly rather safe and predictable.
There are a few good moments shared between Hart and Cranston and flashes of some warmth and sincerity. But ultimately, The Upside is a predictable and safe carbon copy of the film it’s recreating, never exhibiting the natural charm that made the original so beloved. Despite the best efforts of its two lead performances, it’s pretty clear that this was a remake we could’ve done without.