The Upside

Jan 23, 2019

Sweet tears will flow over this low-key comedy about class and race, performed by two first-rate actors.

The Upside

Grade: B+

Director: Neil Burger (Limitless)

Screenplay: Jon Hartmere, based on the Eric Toledano film, Les Intouchables

Cast: Kevin Hart (Get Hard), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2 hr 6 min

By: John DeSando

“Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they're more paralyzed than I am." Christopher Reeve

The Upside is a potentially sappy setup adapted from the highly-successful French film Les Intouchables. Dell (Kevin Hart) is a black ex-con in need of work. Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a wealthy author and investor become quadriplegic from a foolish paragliding incident who needs help.

In the film’s unavoidable cliché, black man becomes white man’s assistant, and the two bond through their differences. While sharing with each other Figaro and Aretha, they become happy buds who easily bridge the considerable racial and economic gulfs.

What makes this comedy work is the obvious respect between the leads and a sincerity about the need to appropriate other cultures for the bounty they offer in different perspectives and temperaments. Hart has never been better playing a smart street guy from The Bronx; Cranston is magnetic with the simple use of his face, a great one that deserves all the closeups director Neil Burger can offer.

Although the stereotypical differences between the two characters could have led to outrageous melodrama, as in the recent Green Book, the filmmakers are more interested in the reality of a rich man being moved by an ex-con, and an underprivileged underachiever finding dignity and prosperity in a world never meant to be his.

The lyrical moments like getting high on weed and watching opera for the first time earn our admiration rather than scorn for formula worshiping. As always, the leads take the lead in taking us to realistic challenges that race and wealth usually move us to whether we are ready or not.

Don’t be afraid of stereotypes and clichés. The setups are acceptable because the film sees the humanity rolling on the screen in the form of a wheelchair and into our hearts with endearing characters. Be prepared to have a few pleasant tears during 2019’s best comedy so far!

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at