The Upside

Dell has a record and a chip on his shoulder. He’s looking for work just enough to appease his parole officer but not enough to actually get a job. But then one lands in his lap anyway.

Now, to be fair: Dell (Kevin Hart) hasn’t done anything to earn this job. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) has lined up plenty of qualified, competent health care aides to interview for the position. But Philip (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t want the good ones. Philip is disgustingly wealthy, newly paraplegic, and harboring a death wish. No one else is prepared to respect his DNR and he’s hoping a fuck up like Dell will mean merciful death – and soon.

The Upside is an American remake of  a French film called The Intouchables. It was wildly popular in France and it’s a well-made film, but both iterations have MV5BODE2NDI3NzUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIzMDQxNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_the same problem. They’re about a wealthy white dude introducing a poor black man to “culture.” The condescension implicit in the premise is so problematic it’s hard to look beyond it. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have passable chemistry but you’re going to love or hate this film, mostly depending on whether you can embrace the formula. Because The Upside doesn’t even pretend to deviate from The Intouchables’ formula. Not for one stinking minute.

Old white rich guy and slightly younger ex-con have a lot to learn from each other. Philip is grieving the loss of his wife (which never amounts to anything) and his legs, while Dell is dealing with repercussions over the loss of his freedom, and his family. Not that he ‘lost’ his family so much as neglected them and now thinks he can win them back by throwing money at the situation.

The direction is nothing special. The movie relies on the whole ‘based (VERY LOOSELY) on a true story’ shtick and it’s very familiar and uninspired. The performances are fine; the best thing you can say about them is that they won’t be remembered in anyone’s career retrospective. But none of this really matters because at the end of the day (or the start of the film), the movie just feels racist and wrong.

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16 thoughts on “The Upside

  1. Orca Flotta

    Jay, please don’t forget the original movie was made after a real life story, and both real life men were interviewed for the DVD Bonus doccie. They are indeed a whitey and a man of colour, so there’s that.

    Also you gotta see that we Europeans have a completely different view on racial stuff, and the ‘white master, bimbo serve’ topic was never appearant in the French flick. Eurotrash never had any African slaves, not to my knowledge. So we view them more as aliens, not as ex-slaves. Neither did the white cripple harbour any hidden death wish. Or was “disgustingly wealthy”. Well off, yeah, sorry; in Europe we still have a robust middle class.

    Actually was it a very light feelgood flick far as I remember.

    Liked by 1 person

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      1. Jay Post author

        Yes, I think we need to hold ALL stories to the same standard: not racist. It’s not asking much.

        In real life, the caretaker is not black. He’s Muslim. That both movies TURNED the character black in order to reinforce servile stereotypes is very telling, I think. The real guy was not a deadbeat dad; he didn’t have any kids at all. That’s something they added in to perpetuate stereotypes of young black men.

        These movies are made to make WHITE audiences feel good. But knowing how hurtful they are to black audiences should maybe make us rethink this.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Jay Post author

      White saviour movies are almost always based on a true story:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_savior_narrative_in_film

      Furthermore, Europeans did in fact have African slaves, but only so much demand for it, so mostly they got rich kidnapping Africans and selling them to Americans. Europeans are slave traders, so yes, extremely complicit in slavery and all of its repercussions. And I don’t think we need to look any further than Brexit to prove how strongly racism persists.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Orca Flotta

        Jay, all I’m trying to say here with my heavy german accent is that regardless of historical background in today’s Europe the racist problem (if you even wanna call it like that) is totally different from the states.
        We have far less coloured people, and the few ones we treat on eye to eye basis, not with white saviour complex or white superiority or anything like that. With the lack of private schools in germany and basicallly free unis, everybody’s got the same level of education. Don’t need no richy rich parents or anything that reeks of class.

        Like

  2. Birgit

    I never saw the original but I have to admit I really enjoyed this film. It doesn’t give any awards but it is well acted and it’s based on a true story even though the wealthy guy isn’t as wealthy. If it was really meant as racist I don’t think Kevin Hart would have been part of it. I just looked at it as 2 men who actually needed each other and didn’t even think of the skin colour. I just looked at the 2 leads as human beings both flawed and both in need of something to live again.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jay Post author

      Unfortunately, black actors are forced to take roles like these because of the scarcity of roles offered to them.
      Mahershala Ali appeared in Green Book, a movie with the same problem, despite the fact that he could see it had some problems with how it portrayed its central relationship. But he took the role because it was literally the most screen time he’d ever been offered – despite having recently won an Oscar.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. selizabryangmailcom

    So I couldn’t even read past the sentence, “They’re both about a wealthy white dude introducing a poor black man to “culture.”
    Why are these kinds of movies still being made???
    I just have no words. It’s beyond absurd and ridiculous and insulting. And Kevin Hart isn’t doing anyone any favors by perpetuating these roles.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jay Post author

      Studios still think it’s the safest way to introduce ‘diversity’ – yes there’s a black character, but he’s being talked down to by a white character, so that makes us feel safe and comfortable. It is absurd and ridiculous and insulting.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. Invisibly Me

    It’s a tricky one because I watched this a little while ago (my memory is not the best so I don’t know if it’s my memory or the film being rather unmemorable!) and I found it somewhat easy to watch but rather uneasy for the reasons you note, too. Definitely not a crowning moment for those involved, but the performances were, for the most part, what helped keep the film going otherwise I don’t know that it would have been watchable at all.

    Liked by 2 people

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