‘The Upside’ addresses disability and second chances with warmth, wit, and a strong moral lesson [Movie Review]

By Nicole Moraleda
By Nicole Moraleda |

Latest Articles

Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half

‘The Monsters of Rookhaven’ review: A new classic of youth fiction

Hong Kong singer and actor Keung To breaks Canto-pop records

The Upside is an American remake of the 2011 French drama-comedy Intouchables, which itself is based on the life of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a wealthy paraplegic businessman, and the unlikely friendship that formed between him and his caregiver.

After losing his wife, Philip (Bryan Cranston), who is paralysed from the neck down, is in need of a live-in caregiver. Despite the strong disapproval of his trusted assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), he hires ex-convict Dell (Kevin Hart), over several more qualified candidates.

Dell, who was recently let out on parole and only came to the job interview to ask for a signature to prove he’s looking for work, is reluctant to take on the job when he learns about his duties. However, upon seeing his salary and room, he is quickly convinced, remembering the fact that his ex-wife kicked him out and that his son wants nothing to do with him.

While it’s funny to watch Hart’s Dell react to the extravagance of Philip’s billionaire lifestyle and some of the more uncomfortable demands of the job, much of the film focuses on how Philip’s paragliding accident has affected his life and how he is treated, or rather mistreated, by people. It also touches on his struggles with loneliness.

Although Philip and Dell come from two very different worlds, they’ve both made bad decisions that have led them to where they are now. But by pushing each other to make the most of new opportunities, the two begin to turn their lives around, learning from each other along they way.

This remake – the third so far – is similar in many ways to the original. It keeps a number of the original’s best comedic scenes, but also offers some new quips which Hart delivers with ease. Some of the artistic cinematography is lost in the Hollywood version, but more modern elements are added, such as the Amazon’s Alexa, hi-tech talking showers, and stalking love interests on Google, which audiences seem to enjoy.

Perhaps one of the more memorable aspects of the original film was its soundtrack. With the remake, the creators chose to swap Earth, Wind and Fire for Aretha Franklin, and classical music for opera. It’s hard to say whether this adds to or detracts from the film, but it still works pretty well.

Those who’ve previously watched the French version might be questioning the need for a Hollywood remake; Upside gives further insight into Philip’s past and love life, as well as the caregiver’s family. The ending, too, is slightly different, albeit rather predictable, but still satisfying.

Director Neil Burger’s (Divergent, The Illusionist) adaptation might not add much to the original, but the story remains heart-warming and uplifting. It’s also a powerful advocate for normalising disability and looking past a person’s past and outward appearance to see their potential. If making an English version means these messages reach a wider audience, so much the better.

This film contains strong language, sexual material, and some references to drugs.

You might also like: 

Playing against type in ‘The Upside

DC's 'Shazam!' is a fun throwback to the golden age of comic books [Movie Review]