‘The Upside’ uplifts at subtle cost of clichés

Neil Burger’s new film “The Upside” retells the story of ex-convict Dell Scott, played by Kevin Hart, and a quadrapalegic man, played by Bryan Cranstonm whom he has been hired to care for. Although the film was lack in some areas, the two share remarkable on-screen chemistry. Photo courtesy of Imdb

Taylor Wolf | Social Media Editor

“The Upside” takes a deep, yet accessible dive into the real life that we seldom see in this age that’s dominated by big budget and unoriginal films. Director Neil Burger’s film shelves the explosions and running-through-the-airport scenes for something that we could all very well experience in our own lives.

The story begins with a flash forward scene that, quite frankly, I perceived to be useless in terms of stimulation. The rest of the film is pretty straightforward, so the six-month flash forward seemed out of place. Kevin Hart’s character, Dell Scott, is an ex-convict on a job hunt to get signatures to prove to his parole officer that he’s looking for work. Thinking he’s heading to an interview for a janitorial position, Dell stumbles into an interview for a “life auxiliary” position for a wealthy quadriplegic, Phillip Lacasse, played by Bryan Cranston. Dell gets the job, and basically, the two become unlikely friends who impact each other and those around them for the better through a series of heartaches and adventures.

At first glance, the plot could be seen as cliché. However, I struggled to find a movie comparison, proving that, while the plot may seem basic or contrived, the film itself proves to be unique.

Big-name actors Cranston, Hart as well as Nicole Kidman, who plays Yvonne, Phil’s assistant, have a natural on-screen chemistry, especially the two leading men. Cranston balances out Hart’s over-the-top comedic qualities to ground him to a more subdued, relatable level. Hart gives a charming and approachable depiction of the ex-convict Dell, who’s in the process of turning his life around, mainly for his son. Hart similarly balances out Cranston’s typically serious and hard-edged demeanor like Skyler White (yes, a “Breaking Bad” reference) never could – bringing out endearing, and at times humorous, qualities and exposing his vulnerability that draws in viewers to empathize with Phil’s seemingly stoic character.

While Kidman’s performance was understated, her character was an essential element to the narrative, serving as the constant nudge in both of the leads’ character developments throughout the story. You don’t realize the subtle emotional attachment she’s garnered from viewers until she’s briefly removed from the story, and you find yourself disappointed Yvonne is gone.

This movie might be an acquired taste, as it lacks real conflict, drama and romance – the driving forces of most popular films; however, it offers something special to the movie goer who enjoys a slice of life from time to time. The inexplicable chemistry and balance between the male leads is a spectacle in itself. The simplicity and accessible depth of the film provokes reverence, reflection and empathy; so, if you’re wanting just a feel-good or just an exciting experience from a movie, this isn’t the one for you.

While riddled with clichés, some unique and others not, the only real disappointments I experienced with the film were the introductory scene and the ending. The flash forward at the start and a parasailing into the sunset ending felt like an easy in and easy out. The atypical storytelling of the rest of the film warranted more creative bookends, in my opinion.

All in all, I appreciated the lack of forced drama, exaggerated conflict and over-romanticizing of relationships. The open-ended nature of the conversations and characterizations leaves it to the audience to make assumptions, which reflects how life really is. I enjoyed the feeling of just watching a group of stories beautifully unfold before me. While relatively static, I found the almost awkward pacing refreshing, as it felt like a narrative I have or could eventually experience myself.

See the movie. It may not be a film you’ll want to re-watch, but it’s a film that will stay with you.