I recently watched this with my mother and I regret my reticence to watch it before. I was expecting a dramatic, depressing tale with a saccharine ending, but that isn’t what I got. While the movie can be heavy, and the ending is indeed cheesy, it is also packed with layers of social commentary and heart.
The movie stars Bryan Cranston as quadriplegic billionaire Phillip LeCasse and Kevin Hart as his earnest caretaker Dell Scott. I was pleasantly surprised by Hart’s emotional depth throughout the movie. evenly balanced with awkward humor. The best quality about Dell is his honesty. He will ask the hard questions without flinching. This emotional honesty is balanced by his comical squeamishness, a combination best witnessed around 56 minutes in.
The two standout actors-actresses-of the movie are Nicole Kidman and Aja Naomi King. Kidman plays Yvonne, Phil’s “executive assistant” with a heart of gold. Their romantic dynamic is very subtle, which is rare in modern movies. King plays Latrice, Dell’s ex and the mother of their son Anthony. Latrice isn’t given much screen time or development but the first thing she does is kick Dell out of her apartment and tell him to get his shit together. She is a woman who is done putting up with Dell’s BS and will do what it takes to make a better life for her son. Her repeated boundary enforcements serve as a much needed wake up call (and ass nicking) for Dell.
Unlike the main pair, there is no romantic tension between Dell and Latrice. However, his behavior and attitude towards her shifts through the movie, reflecting his growing maturity and selflessness. One of the best aspects of their dynamic is that his reparative actions don’t immediately heal the rifts between Dell and Latrice or between Dell and Latrice.
Although Dell is African-American, the movie chooses to focus on a disability narrative rather than a race narrative, and a funny disability narrative at that. Throughout the movie, LeCasse never takes himself too seriously, is able to poke fun at his condition, and has bigger problems than paralysis. Stories like this are rare in film, with writers often preferring to go the melodramatic route (Me Before You comes to mind), but hopefully this movie can provide an example for future true, funny, heartwarming stories to be told.
The first 90 minutes are hilarious and emotional by turns, and the combination of Phillip’s dry humor and Dell’s honesty form a beautiful connection. Unfortunately the third act stalls a bit and veers too far into implausible territory. The typical second act downfall is present but it definitely feels forced and the resolution meanders toward the finish line even though the audience can figure it out instantly.
All in all The Upside is a heartwarming, funny, slightly raunchy story for viewers who are tired of the sanitized fairytales. 9.5/10 for honesty, humor, and heart. Half a point docked for the sappy, stalled third act. It’s a good choice for perhaps a group of PCAs to watch, or others in a caregiving position