Cinematic Releases: Breaking Sad: The Upside (2018) Reviewed

The Upside is a contrived, manipulative dramedy. It is a remake of the 2012 French movie The Intouchables, which was based on a true story, though this feels based more on tired formulas than reality. It is also occasionally entertaining, mildly funny even, with good performances. Whenever I was ready to completely write it off, there was a good scene between its leads or an amusing line. It tries so hard to be likable to the point of pandering, but it is sometimes likable. It is a mixture of the pleasant and the awkward.

Phillip is a wealthy quadriplegic looking for a personal assistant to move him, feed him, etc. Dell is an ex-con looking for work. They meet when Dell reports to the wrong apartment for a job interview and Phillip, on a whim, hires him. That leads to a wacky mismatched buddy comedy with a lot of unearned emotions.

So then they asked me if I wanted to host the Oscars!

The Upside could very well have been a disaster if it were not for its cast. Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman supply pretty much all of the charm on display. Cranston is the quietly unhappy Phillip. There has been some controversy about Cranston playing the role instead of a quadriplegic actor. Without getting into that, Cranston is characteristically good. He brings a depth and power that seem to otherwise be missing from the screenplay. He does not really get to go anywhere with it, however I did enjoy his reactions to Dell’s fish-out-of-water behavior.

I still am unsure how good of a dramatic actor Kevin Hart can be, but this material is heavier than his usual comedies and he deals with it just fine. Unfortunately, his character is a pile of clich├ęs. He is quite affable when the movie is not getting easy laughs off of some of his immature and offensive behavior. Dell shows disgust at one of his more intimate job responsibilities in a way that crosses the line toward homophobia and there are several moments of him objectifying women. Those actions would be somewhat forgivable if the movie then showed him maturing, but no. They are played exclusively for humor and are entirely unnecessary for his arc. The handling of his character made it difficult to get into the story.

The third major character is Nicole Kidman’s Yvonne, Phillip’s devoted assistant. She mostly serves to move the plot forward. She cares a lot about Phillip and does not trust Dell with his well-being. She mainly looks concerned or stern, depending on which of them she is talking to. She has a couple of scenes where she gets to open up a little bit but, oddly enough, her biggest moment takes place off-screen. Kidman does the best she can with a character that is a waste of her considerable talents.

Watching The Upside is an exercise in frustration. The elements are there, yet it goes for the obvious joke nearly every time. It is about people taking risks despite taking absolutely no risks itself. This is the exact type of movie that I generally hate, but I did not hate it. The cast made it watchable, turning potentially cringe-inducing material into something almost okay. I cannot recommend it. In the end, the negative outweighed the positive for me. For fans of the stars, it may be worth a look regardless.

-Ben Pivoz