Sooner or later, seemingly every major star comedian wants to prove that they can be serious artists as well. The annals of filmdom are riddled with hundreds of heartfelt projects by our funniest stars, most of which wind up being ignored by their fans as they either go back to being goofballs or slide out of showbiz altogether.
This week marks Kevin Hart’s turn for getting serious, as he stands toe to toe with the multiple Emmy-winning acting legend Bryan Cranston in the new dramedy “The Upside.” And given that much of Hart’s appeal has been rooted in hysterically screaming and whining his way through seemingly dozens of films, it’s a nice surprise to find he has some quality acting chops.
The film follows an African-American man named Dell (Kevin Hart), who has always sweet-talked his way through life and shirked true responsibility, including paying child support for his preteen son. When his probation officer tells him he has to find three signatures from prospective employers proving that he is looking for work within the next 24 hours or go back to prison, Dell scrambles and stumbles into the penthouse apartment of a paralyzed millionaire named Philip (Bryan Cranston).
Philip and his assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) are trying to find a new caretaker for him, and the millionaire takes an instant interest in the streetwise Dell because of his take-no-prisoners attitude and sass. Philip has been depressed since an accident paralyzed him and killed his wife, and even has orders to not be resuscitated if he chokes, but Dell is determined to help him regain his zest for living while Philip teaches Dell to set higher goals and standards for himself.
These higher standards pertain particularly toward Dell’s barely existent relationship with his ex-girlfriend and mother to his teenage son. As Dell moves into the penthouse for the job and makes the biggest paychecks of his life, however, he quickly becomes more responsible and a better man.
But when Dell tries to convince Philip to meet a mysterious woman with whom he has a longstanding and long-distance romantic correspondence via letters, things go awry and the two men find that trying to improve and change one’s life can be far more complicated than expected.
Based on the smash-hit 2011 French movie “The Intouchables,” which in turn was based on a real-life friendship between two Parisian men, “The Upside” nonetheless stands on its own merits as a vibrant movie with many positive life lessons. Each of the two leading men has universally relatable issues that audience members will surely find extremely affecting.
Hart delivers his deepest, most nuanced performance to date in a role that bounces between drama and comedy repeatedly throughout the movie. Cranston pulls off the remarkable feat of delivering a powerful performance using only his face, due to his character’s paralysis.
And Kidman provides sweet support as the woman who quietly yet strongly ensures that Philip’s life is running as best it can, yet is wary of Dell’s boisterous presence in his life.
“The Upside” is a beautifully told story about the impact that people can make in each other’s lives, and a life-affirming tale of a man learning to regain his spirit after tragic circumstances. It is filled with kindness and yet is also very funny in many scenes, as Hart and Cranston establish a terrific chemistry together.
As we launch into a new year, filled with hopes and a short-lived determination to make our lives better, a film like this can serve as an extra level of inspiration. In January, which is usually filled with films being dumped from the trash heaps of major studios, finding a gem like this is indeed an upside.
“The Upside”: A