Nerdlocker Movie Review: The Upside


Brief rant, please bear with me for a moment…

One thing I feared as I started reviewing films on a regular basis was that my love for film would disappear and I would become someone that can only view film in a formulaic manner, an emotionless response to cinematic content. Film is made with passion, with heart and with soul. It demands so much of its creators beyond just is it good or not; beyond just the obvious physical demands. Because of this I am of the opinion that my reactions to these films, as varied as the people making them, should be adjusted based on each individual creation. To have the same standards for a film like Austin Powers and a masterpiece like The Godfather is not only unfair it’s nonsensical.

I think so many movie critics have lost the ability to decipher what each film is trying to achieve and so they gauge every single film they see in the same exact manner. In doing so I believe silly films like Austin Powers will never have a chance with these critics. It’s become predictable which films critics will love and which they will undoubtedly annihilate. I’m sure I’m guilty of this at times but I make a conscious effort to refrain from doing so. I adjust how to approach movies based on each individual effort, I feel I owe the creators nothing less than a fair assessment, rather than a standard set of stipulations that of course not every film is going to achieve and that doesn’t mean the film is a failure. Preconceived ideas of what a film should be is your own weighted opinion being dumped on the people actually putting in the time and energy into making that most cherished final product, a movie. I think critics have their place but the approach I don’t believe is always fair.

Why say all this? Because as I said, their opinions on films are becoming more and more predictable and with one of the first films of the year, The Upside, this idea is no different. I didn’t have high hopes but I did in fact hope for something positive, I wasn’t expecting a masterclass in filmmaking. I wasn’t demanding so much from the film like so many others seemed to be. And as predicted, the critics are tearing this movie apart like it said something personal about their mothers. This is of course their prerogative and mine is mine. Still, it’s becoming old hat.

Anyway, onto the review…

To start I want to say I have never seen the original French film and will talk about The Upside based on its own merits as an original film.

What initially intrigued me about this normally contrived looking story was the chemistry between its stars Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. I figured this would be a clichéd, feel good story without any substance but their relationship based on the trailer alone looked like a selling point, something to justify giving this one a chance. I’m glad I listened to my instincts because as predictable as the story is, as the plot points are, The Upside is exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s a feel good story yes but one with actual heart and characters meant to be cheered for and admired whose fates actually matter. The Upside isn’t anything all that special but it does work and it’s definitely worth the time.

It’s clear that a balance was sought between the comedy and the more dramatic elements and was achieved through convincing performances and well established story elements and character traits. Kevin Hart was the funniest aspect of the film but not in the way we usually see him. His character is reserved with burdens keeping him down but never out. He is strong in will but does falter frequently and his reliance on his new friend played by Cranston is the key to Hart’s character finding his true north. But like any true friendship the ability to carry another’s burdens is a two way street. Although struggling to find his own way, Dell (Hart) must find a way to bring life back into Phillip’s (Cranston) life despite, among other things, being stuck in a wheelchair. The chemistry between Cranston and Hart is a definite highlight of this story and make the ridiculous moments more bearable.

Nicole Kidman also stars as a stringent but lovable assistant to a man she works for but also cares deeply for. She wants what’s best for Phillip but knows his desire for life is wanting at best and so his decision to hire the less than qualified Dell leaves her suspecting his motives as self inflicting. It’s quite clear from the beginning that Phillip isn’t exactly looking to prolong things here on Earth. Little do they know that Dell may just be exactly what Phillip needs to find the beauty in life once again. Together these three damaged souls begin to mend and live again not because they feel they have to but want to with a sudden and beautiful eagerness.

Where this falters is in the predictability of its story and the arcs of each character. You can see it coming from a mile away but for my money that isn’t such a bad thing. This was never meant to be a complicated story, rather a heartfelt, heartwarming story of friendship and not judging a book by its cover. The chemistry is simply a bonus making something otherwise a bit forgettable into something fun, meaningful, and if you allow it to, it will leave a smile on your cynical faces.

The comedy is plentiful but never out of place or forced. The drama is at times over-the-top but never insincere and through strong performances and a positive view of the world, The Upside is exactly what it needs to be. By the time the credits roll, if you aren’t dead inside, you’ll feel content and fulfilled with what you’ve been given with this particular story.

I think the main goal here was to tell an inspiring story, however unbelievable, with lovable characters simply trying to better themselves and those around them. The Upside is a serviceable feel good story of redemption and second chances in the most unexpected of ways. Don’t let the cynics out there deter you from giving this one a chance if you had any interest in it in the first place. If you aren’t seeing it simply because you “know” the original is better you are ignorant and I hate you. The upsides of seeing The Upside far outweigh the negatives. It was never meant to be a masterpiece, to expect different is your own issue. I for one, in a month notorious for releasing absolute garbage, am pleased with the results.

Rated PG-13 For: suggestive content and drug use
Runtime: 125 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Starring: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman
Directed By: Neil Burger

Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 4/ Directing: 3.5/ Visuals: 3
OVERALL: 4 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: Yes

Check out the trailer below:

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard