Skip to main content

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside
(2017)

(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

Or even merely passable prospects that probably didn’t justify the outlay like My Father, the Hero. Or Cousins. Or Blame it on Rio. Or Jungle 2 Jungle. Or The Mirror Has Two Faces. Or The Next Three Days. Or Three Fugitives. Or Taxi. Or The Tourist (a hit by most standards, but then you look at the budget). Or Dinner for Schmucks, an example that did decent business in the US but very little internationally. The original of that one had already been a sizeable hit with those not put off by subtitles (or who are multilingual), however. So too The Upside, which may in part be reflected in Amazon’s decision to acquire international SVOD rights and rapidly get it out there. Intouchables made a mammoth $427m in 2011 ($10m of which came from the US) – outside of China, and The Passion of the Christ, that’s about as stratospheric as it gets for non-English language films.

At home, however, The Upside proved a – perhaps surprise is too strong a word since Kevin Hart definitely has his fan base – hit at the beginning of the year (it was first shown at film festivals sixteen months earlier, hence the official release year above). STX acquired distribution from The Weinstein Company (bought out by Lantern Entertainment) after Harvey became the most disgraced face of #MeToo. The picture has already undergone a lengthy development, taking in directors Paul Feig, Tom Shadyac and Simon Curtis and such leads as Chrises Rock and Tucker, Jamie Foxx and Colin Firth. Before, bizarrely, director Neil Burger alighted on it. I say bizarre, but I still have Burger’s The Illusionist in mind with regard to his potential, rather than Divergent.

But bizarrely because – and this may be why it’s taken me three paragraphs to get round to it – The Upside is very basic, button-pressing, aspirational fare ideally suited to nuance-free Hollywood; such accessibility is why the original went down so well. You have issues of race, class and disability thrown together in one sentimental and aspirational package, tied with a requisite bow, with just enough lip service to the harsh realities raised (but no graphic catheter replacements sighted) to lend the illusion, for those after that, that it isn’t completely toothless. We’ve seen variations of this sort of odd-couple material many times before, with a gruff elder thawed out by a looser junior, both learning something from the other and coming out the other side as better people. Scent of a Woman springs to mind.

There’s no new spin on that in The Upside. What it has going for it is that, even in a movie reaching for such low-hanging fruit, a fine actor like Bryan Cranston (as quadriplegic millionaire Philip Lacassse) can only make it seem more respectable. And Hart (as Dell Scott, needing a job and just irreverent and incapable enough for Lacasse to pick him as carer, as the latter wants a permanent way out of his predicament), dipping his toe in dramatic waters, acquits himself agreeably. It helps that the pair have great chemistry; when Cranston cracks up at Hart, it’s infectiously genuine.

Unfortunately, every single dramatic and emotional beat smacks of cliché; Lacasse is grieving and tentatively exploring other relationships (Julianna Margulies), but the one who truly cares for him (Nicole Kidman) is right under his nose. Dell is a failing in his duties as a father and an ex, an ex-con lacking any direction in his life, all of which Lacasse can help with. Oh, and most excruciatingly, also provide him an appreciation for opera. There’s an amusing scene where Lacasse convinces Tate Donovan’s snobby neighbour to buy Dell’s terrible art, but if there’s any take away from The Upside, it’s that even amid the suffocating grip of superhero movies and inspiration-bereft sequels, audiences will still take to more basic, emotionally-salving formula vehicles of this ilk. The Upside could easily have been made by Touchstone in the ‘80s.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.