I have a dim recollection of The Intouchables, the original film on which The Upside is based. I remember liking it for being both heartwarming and funny, but after many years and several hundreds of films later, I would probably look at it more critically if I were to watch it again. Which I won’t, because The Upside is more or less the same thing done in English. We have the quadriplegic billionaire. We have the charismatic ex-convict who unexpectedly gets the job as the billionaire’s caregiver. He ineptly bumbles through his training and eventually gets the hang of things, and the two begin to form a close friendship. It’s all very cute and obvious, with the kind of middlebrow humour that can set a theatre ablaze with laughter. The story on its own is a charmer and hits you with positive messages like making peace with your past, being a better person in the moment, and treating those with disabilities with dignity. There’s a reason why this story is always being remade: it has everything a less discerning audience would want when they go for a casual date to the cinema, and in the end they feel like they get their money’s worth. Isn’t that what we all want? To exit a theatre happy that our dollars went to a film we liked instead of one we didn’t?
The thing we have to understand is that the safest films are not necessarily the ones that hold up best. The Intouchables may have made a big splash when it was first released, but now I barely hear a peep about it. Likewise, The Upside will suffer a similar (if not quicker) fate. The careers of Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman will not be remembered for anything they do in this film, for they’re never allowed to go out of their comfort zones. Cranston has played crusty older men a number of times. Hart’s motormouth shtick barely changes from film to film. Kidman’s powerhouse performances easily eclipse her stern assistant role here. They get decent mileage from this story, and audiences clearly won’t turn away from them. Their filmographies, however, will bury this film as a bullet point for only a select few to dig up again. It’s the very nature of films like this, especially ones that are inferior remakes of originals. Most people will go to the more successful source; those who hate reading subtitles will have no other choice but to stick with this.
So while I was neither here nor there about this one, it was at least nice to hear others enjoy themselves so much. A comedy works if people are bursting at the seams with mirth, and that was the clear case with The Upside. Even if you don’t always laugh along with the others, the communal nature of moviegoing is somehow validated anyway, because people are forgetting about their worries for a few hours in the same way as you are. And you can’t begrudge them that. Not for something relatively inoffensive like this (except for that catheter joke, which the writer should have given more thought about before including).