Tal­ents wasted in The Up­side

The Chatham Daily News - - LIFE - ck­[email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/chrisknight­film CHRIS KNIGHT

The Up­side

★★ (out of 5)

Di­rec­tor: Neil Burger

Star­ring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kid­man

Run­ning time: 2 hours, 5 min.

Back in 2011, France re­leased The In­touch­ables, a buddy com­edy in which a rich white quad­ri­plegic hires an un­qual­i­fied black ex-con as a live-in care­giver, and sub­se­quently learns to loosen up, smoke weed and live a lit­tle. It was adored by au­di­ences and fret­ted over by crit­ics. Sam­ple think-piece head­line: The In­touch­ables — Racist Or Cheesy?

So why not have The We­in­stein Com­pany re­make it in Eng­lish, set it in the racially charged present-day U.S. and re­lease it in 2019? This just after the Golden Globe went to the “is-itracist?” Green Book, while Black Pan­ther and BlacKkKlans­man came home empty-handed. And If Beale Street Could Talk was beat out by Bo­hemian Rhap­sody? I mean, what could go wrong?

Turns out, quite a bit, in di­rec­tor Neil Burger’s adap­ta­tion, which closely fol­lows the beats of the orig­i­nal.

The big­gest ad­di­tion, aside from a bloated, two-hour-plus run­ning time, is the ad­di­tion of an ex-wife and son for the char­ac­ter of Dell, played with rel­a­tive re­straint by Kevin Hart. Oh, and Dell steals a book and spends the rest of the movie try­ing to fig­ure out how to give it back.

For this they needed a new screen­writer?

Bryan Cranston takes up the role of Phillip, who was par­a­lyzed in a paraglid­ing ac­ci­dent and sub­se­quently lost his wife to can­cer. It is sug­gested, with far less sub­tlety than in the orig­i­nal, that he hires Dell be­cause he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.

An early scene has him ex­plain­ing his do-not-re­sus­ci­tate or­der to his new care­giver.

A sim­i­lar ob­vi­ous­ness goes into craft­ing the char­ac­ters of Dell and Phillip. One likes opera; the other Aretha. One can quote Yeats; the other falsely claims to know who that is. One con­sid­ers him­self a ladies’ man, in the pre#MeToo sense of the word; the other fears in­ti­macy. No points for guess­ing who’s who here.

For all its racially charged setup, The Up­side doesn’t com­pletely crash and burn, mostly thanks to Cranston’s and Hart’s ef­forts to dance around the worst of their char­ac­ters’ cliches.

Phillip’s world in­cludes thinly sketched em­ploy­ees played by Nicole Kid­man (as his ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant), Suzanne Savoy (the cook) and Ju­lianna Mar­gulies (phys­i­cal ther­a­pist), while Dell spars with ex-wife La­trice (Aja Naomi King). There’s also Tate Dono­van, wasted in the role of Phillip’s grumpy down­stairs neigh­bour.

There’s a real Phillip, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the son of a French duke who hired Al­ge­rian ex-con Ab­del Sel­lou back in the ’90s. The two re­main friends to this day. So The Up­side is based on a true story but also based on a pre­vi­ous movie, which in­volves quite a drift from the orig­i­nal truth.

The 2003 doc, A la vie, a la mort, tells their tale, but I’d rec­om­mend The In­touch­ables. Sure, you’ve got to track it down and it’s got sub­ti­tles, but that’s just the kind of mes­sage The Up­side is clum­sily ped­dling: Vive la dif­fer­ence!


Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston star in The Up­side, a re­make of 2011 French film The In­touch­ables, a buddy com­edy that was fret­ted over by­crit­ics for racist over­tones.

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