Inspired by the 2011 film, Les Intouchables, about a handicap millionaire and his ex-con caretaker who become best buddies, this Hollywood version stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston and puts a comical, but still inspiring spin on the French film, which was nominated for several César Awards, (France’s equivalent to the Oscars).
Hart steps into the role made famous by Senegalese actor Omar Sy bringing humor to the script as an ex-con called Dell Scott who is on parole and needs to prove to his parole officer that he is actively seeking gainful employment. Self-centered and exceedingly arrogant, he has a hostile relationship with his son and an acrimonious one with his ex-girlfriend Latrice (Aja Naomi King), who is fed up of his lackadaisical attitude about life.
Facing a parole violation and frustrated by the menial opportunities available to an ex-con, he shows up to a job interview for a home care assistant merely expecting a signature from the interviewers to prove that he is actively seeking work but is offered the job to take care of Phillip, a quadriplegic played by Cranston. What follows are several scenes of banters and blowups between the pair and protests from his chief-of-staff Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), but despite a rocky start they end up forming a lifelong friendship.
“When people hear Kevin Hart, they immediately think it’s going to be broad and funny,” shares producer Jason Blumenthal. “We will see funny Kevin for sure, but also a more serious, dramatic Kevin and though he brings humor to the film, his role goes beyond comedic relief while his character struggles to turn his life around.”
Directed by Neil Burger, there is great camaraderie between Cranston and Hart who play two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common. In one scene, Dell (Hart) demands Phillip sign a letter and when Phillip asks how he should do so, Dell responds “Slowly” drawing out his speech is a manner which ensues laughter. There’s also another scene during an opera show where he informs Phillip he’s found him a girlfriend. “She’s can’t move her face because of the botox and you can’t move your legs and arms so you would be good for each other.”
“The movie is about people bridging the divisions between us, which to me is an incredibly important theme,” says Burger. “People are going to be blown away, because Kevin has incredible dramatic chops that nobody’s seen before.”
Set in New York, “The Upside” follows the same formula and style of its French inspiration starting off with duo in a car driving through the city before offering audiences a flashback of their initial meeting six months earlier. The music of Barry White was heavily featured in the French version and it’s great to see a nod to Aretha Franklin whose music is played in the movie by Dell who initially dismisses Phillip’s musical choices.
Audiences will be able to identify with Dell’s life struggle and discover what it is like to be a person with quadriplegia. Both have different struggles and although there is a serious dramatic tone to the film, Hart and Cranston bring balance to it.
“It was a challenge that I welcomed with open arms,” says Hart. “I’ve yet to do something like this. I’ve yet to step into this space. I’m about opening up doors. And this is a door that I’ve been hesitant to open because I wanted to make sure that the project was right when I actually did it. ‘The Upside’ is the perfect project for me to step in that direction of a drama-esque performance but still stay true to my comedy roots.”
“The Upside” is out in theaters.
By Samantha Ofole-Prince/Photos by David Lee